Addison Trueheart’s band of five stood atop the stone porch of the goblin cave, under the spotlight of a full moon. The sky was clear and pricked with stars bearing witness to the first unofficial peace talks between goblin and man. If given a choice, mankind might have elected someone other than Nadler Kilson to speak on its behalf but no such vote was proposed and besides, Nadler had already prepared a speech.
As Addi had guessed, the failed raid on Windy Wood had taken a heavy toll on the hill pinkys. Gwerk the Burned stood before his diminished tribe and all were transfixed by the arrival of the red-haired intruder. A cluster of small moons wedged in little pink heads stared at the apple farmer. Addi counted twenty pinkys; some with a clutch of children stashed around their legs. Many of the goblins were wearing clothing and trinkets discarded by humans. One of the smaller pinkys sported pantaloons outgrown by a child and shaded spectacles that Mayor Munchik had misplaced ages ago. Seeing the creatures huddled together and absurdly decorated with the fragments of human comfort doused Addi’s anger.
“These things don’t stand a chance,” Addi thought.
Nadler cleared his throat for effect and spoke. His appeal was composed during his break between the lunch and dinner rush at the tavern. He aimed to extol the virtues of living in harmony with all life while balancing compassion and force. He wrote the words to sing and flow like a sermon but after being stripped to the bones by the limitations of the pinky language and Nadler’s loose grip on its grammar, his pitch for peace clunked along like a wagon with broken wheels.
“Uhhwhheee huk uh wokk,” Nadler screeched, unaware of how far off target his words landed when accurately translated: “Good morning goblins! My call be Nadler. My tribe mate’s call be Addison. We here for want to leave goblins in pieces!”
Nadler expected the pinkys to be surprised at the depths of mankind’s magnanimity but the intensity of their reaction swelled his chest. For the first time, the goblins had peeled their eyes from Addi and were now giving him their complete attention. Nadler Kilson, bartender turned ambassador, seized his moment and his voice cracked as he continued louder than before.
“We want pieces! We want goblin pieces! We want all life pieces but not here. Goblins leave then we make pieces. Goblin pieces. Human pieces. All life pieces!” Nadler reached high above his head as he finished.
Pinky-speak always stung in Addi’s ears like a screaming pig but the humans’ message sounded even worse to the goblins. The loudmouthed intruder had just promised to march the survivors of their tribe away from home so they can be mutilated on the road. The Book had spoken of fire and death but what if The Prophecy had simply glossed over the grisly details? What if there were fates worse than death? What if Gwerk and his friends were right all along and the humans craved the suffering of their friends and children?
Gwerk the Burned had heard enough and glared at Addi with a ferocity understood in any language. Belly Poker squirmed in his hand.
“Awruuuhigg huc huuuuc,” Gwerk snarled and soon two more pinkys took up his words until they were squawking in chorus.
“What did you do?” Addi asked his friend.
Nadler shrugged. Sir Rodger Bellick removed one hand from his cramping belly to rest on his sword.
“What are they saying?” Ember asked from behind.
Nadler raced through his dictionary while Gwerk and Addi locked eyes. Pinky females and children shivered at the cave’s threshold and the most tender amongst them buried their faces under their mother’s arms. Krewg slipped off his backpack and watched the standoff with a grin stretching across his dirty face.
“I can’t be certain but they are either saying ‘chill the frozen one’, which seems redundant, or ‘kill the closest son.’ I don’t know, Addi,” Nadler rarely admitted such a thing.
Addi’s tolerance for the whole affair was drying out faster than soil in a drought. The pinky trying to scowl fiercely at him had given him more than enough trouble and now the runt wished to add threats of hypothermia or pedicide to the sum? Addi’s kicking leg was primed to start punting goblins off the mountain, starting with Gwerk the Burned and his idiotic stick.
“Why?” Addi growled the question. The pinkys did not reply but did pause their chant.
Nadler held his tongue as well. He heard the clouds thundering in Addi’s voice and knew when to seek shelter in silence. In all their years as friends, Nadler had witnessed Addison Trueheart untethered only once and the drunken prankster that urinated on his friend’s book never relieved himself without pain or in a straight line again. Nadler swallowed the knot in his throat and tucked his dictionary away.
“Why are you wasting our time?” Addi took a step towards Gwerk.
Gwerk said nothing.
“Why did you attack our town?” Addi moved again.
“Why did you kill my dad?!” the words cracked like lightning and ripped through the hills.
Addi did not see Ember digging her fingers in her hair or notice Krewg tugging an end of rope from his open pack. He did not hear Sir Rodger Bellick crying out to him either. The apple farmer’s temper had reached a rolling boil and his eyes bore into Gwerk’s. To his surprise, Addi found something within the pale globes that he finally understood: rage.
“Awruuuhigg huc huuuuc,” Gwerk said a final time. Spittle foamed in the corners of his mouth as he fixated on Addi’s ears.
On that fateful night, at the first unofficial failed peace talks between goblin and man, the honor of the opening blow belonged to neither of the two races. In the end, Sir Rodger Bellick’s bowels struck first. As the tension between Addi and Gwerk reached explosive levels, Sir Rodger Bellick gasped and hugged his midsection as if gut shot by a hidden archer. By the time Addi saw the old marshal doubled over, the odor of Sir Rodger Bellick’s incontinence had washed over the mountainside.
A mix of shock and pity stunned Addi’s army into inaction but Gwerk and the rest of the pinkys fumed. The bulk of a goblin’s life was spent tucked away in darkness. In order to thrive as a species, the pinkys had evolved olfactory senses keener than a hungry bear and as a consequence, all tribes maintained strict laws when it came to waste management. Smelling an outsider befoul their property and his own pants in such an audible act of disrespect was too offensive for the pinky mind to handle.
Before Addi could find the appropriate words, if such words existed, a pink blur holding a stick charged the old marshal. The seasoned veteran sensed the threat and reached for his sword but his hand stalled on the handle; Sir Rodger Bellick feared that any sudden movements might incur further damage to his undergarments and reputation. The stutter was all the time Gwerk the Burned needed to close the gap and deliver a glorious thrust with Belly Poker.
The pinky’s weapon met the marshal’s tunic and snapped in twain but the resulting collision sent the pair of unlikely combatants toppling over the cliff edge and onto the unforgiving boulders below. Addison Trueheart, Nadler Kilson, Ember Faey and Krewg Harring whipped their heads around and looked at each other with the same dumbstruck mask of horror as if they were a practiced troupe of performers.
When forced to recall the events of that evening, Addi would forever have difficulty keeping the details in line. Once Sir Rodger Bellick took flight, everything fell apart at the same time.
“Awruuuhigg huc huuuuc,” screeched the pair of Gwerk’s chanting acolytes and they sprinted at Addi with their teeth bared. Glimmers of metal flashed by each of Addi’s ears and before he could blink, the duo of attackers were writhing on the ground and Ember was pulling another throwing blade from the tail end of her braided hair. The remaining pinkys fled for their cave.
While Nadler and Addi continued to gawk uselessly at one another, Krewg dropped to his knees and produced a pocketknife and a rock. In the midst of the chaos, none of the young adults paid any attention to the child behind them hacking away at a bit of flint and showering his pack with sparks.
“What should we do?” Nadler, the bartender always stocked with answers, asked his friend. Addi shook his head. Neither felt much like heroes anymore. They were boys lost in the woods without a light to guide them home. But just then, fire sailed through the air between the two friends and they turned to follow the smoking trail of Krewg’s backpack as it flew after the retreating goblins.
“To the stars!” Krewg Harring yelled and pressed his palms against his ears. In an instant, the full spectrum of visible light erupted from the front door of the pinkys' home with a boom that shook the stoutest trees in the forest.
Krewg’s exploding cache of party rockets was heard all the way back in Windy Wood and robbed Addi, Nadler and Ember of their hearing for a distressing length of time. The group alternated between shouting at one another to no effect and massaging their ears as goblins poured from the cave and fell lifelessly to the ground. Addi spotted the curled pink form of an undersized victim wearing shaded spectacles and wedged under the bodies of his tribe mates. When the ringing in his head dulled enough to walk, he stomped to the Harring boy with his fists clenched at his sides.
“I did it! Did you see that? You saw that, right?” Krewg was hopping and pointing at the smoking hole in the mountain.
“What in the name of the Goddess do you think you’re doing?” Addi screamed.
“What are you talking about? I saved the town!” the boy said defensively. Krewg had been in trouble every day of his life and could spy out the signs of a lecture from miles away. As far as he was concerned, he deserved a medal and his own holiday. While he’d settle for slightly less, he was not going to be fussed at by some farmer who froze when the situation demanded action.
“You blew them all up!” Addi shouted the obvious.
“You can’t yell at me, Addison Trueheart! I’m a hero!” Krewg shouted back. “Now you owe me an apology on top of the door you already owe my GamGam!”
Addi’s boot moved on its own accord and before anybody could advise otherwise, the Harring boy was soaring through the air like a mouse tied to a missile. Krewg landed and tumbled a respectable distance back down the trail before springing to his feet with the resilient frame of all children.
Addi, Nadler and Ember listened as the budding pyromaniac wailed and ran through the wooded hillside back to Windy Wood where he would soon inform his grandmother of Addison’s continuing crimes against their family. The remaining members of Addi’s army stood in the wreckage of their failed peace mission. None of them had the words or experience to draw from to explain what had just occurred. For the second time that week, Addison Trueheart found himself flabbergasted and surrounded by the corpses of goblins despite his best intentions to live in privacy and boredom.
Below the shell-shocked group of human invaders, concealed deep within the shadows at the base of the smoking mountain, Gwerk the Burned sniffed the night air and smelled his home smoldering. He had failed to protect his people from the slaughter foretold in The Prophecy but the goblin shed no tears as he stood atop the broken body of an elderly foe. Instead, his eyes burned with the fire that dwelled in the hearts of all fanatics who had found their path on the infinite byways of fate. Gwerk the Burned had died along with his tribe mates and his warrior spirit. From that night forward, he was reborn as Gwerk the Prophet and he swore on his reheated soul to spread word of The Book and tirelessly labor to spare other tribes from the fate that consumed his own.
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