I wake up alone in my Cabin, the same as I fell asleep the night before I recall. Not even Milga or Zeb rouse me. Strange. The interior of the Cabin is neat and tidy, my clothes, armour, and spear on display ready for me to gear up for the day and yet no wives … How do I feel about that?
Stomping each foot in turn into my sturdy leather boots I am finally ready to greet the day. Opening the Cabin door sunlight streams in, a glance left confirms no one waits for me seated at the porch table and scanning the Farm beyond my Cabin reveals a normal day with Goblins going about their business, I would hope on my behalf.
As I stride towards the Kitchen Cabin many a Goblin tips their head in salute or acknowledgement and then hurry on. Reaching the Kitchen Cabin, I push the door open, and a couple of welcoming faces greet me with smiles, Zana and Gato. In fact, Gato waddles towards me and seats me at the Kitchen bench while Zana presents a plate of cold slices of boar, some boiled root vegetables and the ultimate prize, a wild apple.
“Where are my wives?” I ask before taking a single bite.
Gato and Zana exchange glances. By some unknown agreement Zana speaks.
“Your four new wives took to heart their punishment and are determined to ensure they contribute to your glory Lord …”
Gato interrupts, “Plus they don’t wish to be beaten again in front of the entire Farm …”
Zana huffs and continues, “That may have been a factor also, in any case they are with any who will enhance their usefulness, your other wives, Milga, Zeb, Redagar or Jotor. Anyone really …”
I pick at my food. “And you two?”
“Lord?” they answer in unison.
“How do you both contribute to my glory?”
“We prepare meals for you and your wives by gathering root vegetables, saving cuts of boar meat, and occasionally finding treasure, like wild apples. Making sure all waterskins are full.”
I grunt as I devour more from my plate to break my fast.
“You are not pleased with us Lord Hob?”
“Smith Hob named you both champion sniffers and I wonder if in all your hunting for root vegetables and wild apples you haven’t found copper ore?”
Zana backs away from the Kitchen bench, out of my immediate reach, while Gato feigns an ache in her belly and slides along the Kitchen bench to support herself and by co-incidence I am sure, edge further away.
I slap the bench with my open hand and with desperate looks they acknowledge their master.
“What command did Smith Hob give you both?”
“We weren’t to sniff for copper ore ever again …” They burst into tears.
“I don’t need you to.”
They sniff and wipe away their tears making a remarkable emotional recovery. I place a stone shard on the Kitchen bench and wave them forward. This is the one I chipped off when escaping from the elder’s cavern prison, unusually in near pure form which also infers there wouldn’t be a vein with more.
“Can you sniff this?”
Exchanging long looks they approach the bench and lean forward, their noses hoovering over the stone.
Zana looks up first. “We can, we have sniffed a little of this ore before … displeasing the Smith Hob when we did Lord Hob.”
“Good, good,” I reply, the back of my hands caressing a bright green cheek of each.
Their eyes brighten.
“I need you to sniff for this ore when you are searching for food, can you do this?”
“Yes, Lord Hob, of course,” they reply in turn.
As days drift by I conclude waiting is not a strength of mine … although I do spend a great deal of time thinking.
Something the Head Hob’s messenger said haunts me still, ‘the Hunter Hob didn’t provide much meat but at least he was another Hob’. The Hunter Hob, as an essential function of his role would need to supply butchered game to Copper Village, Head Village, and the Farm. While Goblins can benefit from meat like any omnivore, perhaps regular supply of protein is essential for Hobs with their greater body mass.
The Head Hob acted and appeared old, yet his daughter Rexa, sixteen years of age if not more would exactly match the number of years he has been Head Hob and before then Farmer Hob. The key is, when did the Hunter Hob take up his role. If within the last sixteen years, then his failure to supply meat could be a reason for the Head Hob’s failing health as disease or other body aliment would most likely see him dead by now, not in slow tortuous decline.
Then there was Fub’s comment about the Head Hob needing him more and more over the last few years to guide him around, what could be argued to be, a small village.
I admit the theory a weak one, yet none of the tribes have reported back yet, and I need to do something.
In the false light of the morning the next day, I dress, including armour and weapons determined to visit the Head Hob. Placing my hand over Koria Keen Eye’s mouth I startle her awake.
“Dress for danger, fetch a knapsack of dried meat from the Kitchen and meet me at the Farm gate.”
Her head nods under my hand and I release my grip. Her lithe naked form skips out of bed to do my bidding. I need to choose another. I don’t wish to send the Head Hob into a fit of reminiscing, so Rexa can remain asleep. My four new wives are unproven and best left on the Farm. If something goes wrong, however unlikely, I don’t wish to leave Zeb daughterless, and therefore must choose Duzsia.
I expect screams of delight and a wriggling worm when I place my hand over her mouth, instead serious eyes study my face and when I release my hand a whisper I didn’t expect.
“Thank-you Lord Hob for choosing me, I will strive to perform at my best.”
“You don’t know what I ask of you yet?”
Her goblin-size hands try to enclose mine, the one previously over her mouth. “You have been restless waiting for news and when you are restless you are more Hob like … this, whatever this is will be good.”
“Ready yourself for danger and ensure we have water and food for three days for two Goblins and one Hob. Wait for me at the Farm gate.”
She jumps up and steals a kiss on my cheek on her way to getting ready. Koria ready and gone before I wake Duzsia.
I don’t need to wait long while seated at the Cabin porch table.
“Do you want me to fetch Zeb?” asks Milga.
“You can tell him, there isn’t much to say. I need to do something, so I am going to test a theory and feed the Head Hob meat. Don’t ask about the reasons, they are flimsy at best, a wrong guess at worst. At most I will be away three days, it depends how he feels about eating meat or not.”
“Doing the Hunter Hob’s job will be tedious …” she reminds me.
“Culling another Tribe will be … more difficult,” I retort, throwing out a sadness in the words.
“I wish you every success Lord Klug.”
My head lifts. “Why now?”
“To remind you we are partners and propose possible alternatives, so you don’t lose all hope.”
She flashes her teeth in a generous smile, and I can’t help myself returning the same.
She continues, “Our allies are Chief Grol, Chief Bor, the Matriarch and Meb. Who is the odd one out?”
I decide not to be sexist, assuming Matriarch is similar in authority to Chief, which means … “Meb,” I answer.
“As you know Meb has two brothers. The Laughing Tusks aren’t a united tribe in the same way as the other tribes. Each brother wants to be acknowledged Chief yet while Meb is the strongest, in terms of followers and territory he is constantly attacked by the Blood Suns, neither of his brothers have a hostile border content it seems with the present arrangement.”
What is Milga proposing here? “Continue,” I allow the single word to slide out of my mouth, wondering about this partner of mine and what she has been thinking about.
“We have a number of options, firstly the easiest I believe, is to assist Meb conquer his two brothers, the heads of the dead can be staked as proof for the Head Hob.”
I lean back in my chair, surrendering the table. Gruesome, yet doable and wakening my inner Hob with thoughts of blood and gore.
“The second option is each brother chooses one of the other tribes to join and the Tribal name Laughing Tusks falls from memory.”
“Would they consider that option? Especially Meb who has a dream of being Chief.”
“You would have to threaten Meb and his brothers with annihilation, but yes. Meb is sworn to you, he either honours that or not and then it is up to you to try and punish him … or not.”
“The third, we let Meb follow his own plan which will be to attack his brothers, although our control of the outcome will be less certain. The advantage though is no one will hate you. If he allows the wrong few to live, they will hate him and probably plan an assassination in the days after.”
I flash my partner a false smile and stand. “My bodyguards are ready.”
“Safe travels, partner.”
Each of us carry our own supplies, while the addition of the meat knapsack upon my back is inconsequential. Perhaps I should have asked for two. We proceed at a steady jog upon the well-maintained wooden path, which I must praise Redagar for when I talk to him next.
“Top of this rise we will rest long enough to drink and then continue,” I shout to my two companions. There is a nostalgic twinge as I close in on this rise, from here I took in my first apprising view of the Farm after surviving the funeral pyre.
Duzsia laughs and then sprints ahead, Koria doesn’t take the bait staying in step with me. Mid celebratory jump Duzsia crashes to the ground as would a puppet with its strings cut. I sprint.
Glancing down at Duzsia her hands nurse her head and then Koria wraps her arms around the shivering body. Duzsia is in a state of shock and scanning the wide gulley which spreads out before us I know why. I take a knee and push her hands away with mine to cradle her face and kiss her forehead.
“There would always be a need for prove wife … I don’t say this is right, it just is.” Consoling my wife distracts the Hob within me, a deep regret boils within, the feeling of missing out and the urge now to double down and unleash the deeply contained Hobgoblin savagery upon all things Goblin and bathe in their blood. A shiver shoots down my spine and I attempt to stand, my body jerking upright, my self-control slipping as my hands fall away from Duzsia’s face.
I hear a distant echoing scream and then a sting upon my cheek. Growling I snap my face in the direction of my assailant. A loud slap and a warm throbbing burn manifests on the other cheek. My nostrils flare drawing in the scent of grisly bloody death … and then like a switch my nose is wet, yet warm and I breathe in another altogether different smell, not smell I decide, a fragrance, familiar, loving, and lustful. My limp hands are guided to explore warm flesh pressing against me, the contours, depressions, and curves which I appreciate, familiar possessions, all of them including their owner; mine. I grin from ear to ear as my tongue licks up scented fluid off my lips and the Farmer Hob in me diverts to another priority …
A background hum gradually increases in volume or does my awareness improve as I come to my senses. Blinking my eyes open, Goblins surrounded me; a moment of concern washes away as Koria and Duzsia wrap themselves around each of my arms.
A large Goblin, his hands twisting his cap within his grasp bows before me. “We came running when we heard the screams … Lord Hob.” His face blushes a deep green. “Your wives though seemed to have the situation erm … good.”
I nod, this is Redagar. Why is he here?
I tried to look beyond the circle of Goblins and they deliberately shift to block my gaze. A movement catches my eye. It is Redagar who takes a knee in front of me and while sitting his head is level with mine the wooden road underneath both of us. The wooden road … yes, Duzsia … I remember rushing to her.
“You can’t look upon the field of dead Lord, for Hobgoblins there is always a killing frenzy and usually Goblins are your targets of choice. You mustn’t smell their blood on the wind.” Again, a flush of deep green washes over his face. “Your wives assure us they have a solution.”
He begins to climb to his feet, pauses and drops back down again. “Farmer Hobs can be cruel, spiteful but usually to single Goblins or several, only Warrior Hobs and sometimes Ranger Hobs can descend into a Death Frenzy, which doesn’t end until they have spilt much blood.”
His head drops and his fingers fidget. He is wondering if he should say more and before I can think of words to encourage him his head rises until our eyes meet.
“Most of the Farm Goblins, except perhaps Jotor have decided you aren’t a Farmer Hob, in fact some believe you aren’t a real Hob, your return after death you see, confirmed by your peculiar behaviour. The visit by the Smith Hob a recent example, Goblins hide until he leaves, Goblins enjoy the feast after he leaves. Such visits usually leave many Goblins injured or dead as two Hobs at once compete to be cruel. We continue to observe you and while you have many names, some prefer a new one, Lord Protector of Goblins.” He looks about him. “Although moments like these we Goblins realise even with your best intentions there is still a true Hob deep down inside, perhaps even a Warrior Hob.”
I release a breath. How could my evaluation of Redagar upon first meeting him been so wrong, or perhaps correct, a Goblin taking advantage of the freedoms possible, conforming quickly when the ruler returns. He bends with the wind …
“You don’t mourn the great number of Goblin dead?”
He climbs to his feet and shrugs, “Better them than us and the Head Hob ordered a cull. There is no escaping such an edict from a Hob, even for a non-Hob such as yourself.”
I climb to my feet, taking care to look away from the field of Goblin heads, blood dripping from their necks while perching upon their spikes. The memory flashes quickly and with a grunt I throw it away.
Redagar and his Goblins stroll back to the field, yet he pauses one more time. “Lord if you wish to view the fields do so from the opposite hillock, the breeze is behind your back to blow the smell of blood and death away from you and the field should be far enough away to blur any detail, such as final death stares and dripping blood.”
His macabre detail amusing in some way yet I wave over my head without sighting him in case I glimpse the killing field.
My arms gather my wives in a firm embrace. “Time for us to continue.”
“One moment Lord.” Koria fiddles and drops her leather pants, ripping free her loin cloth which she promptly folds into a triangle and reaches for my head which I block by flailing my hand.
“What are you doing?”
She quirks her head. “Blocking your nose with a better fragrance of course …”
In the middle of the rage, I recall wet moist and warm …
“Now he understands sister wife what we needed to do,” quips Duzsia.
I take the loin cloth from Koria, remove the ‘used’ one not questioning before now, and quickly perform the swap over. Hanging the used one between two fingers like a flag I offer the prize to Koria and then Duzsia. Duzsia plucks the cloth back and ties the piece of clothing back in place after a minimum of fuss.
We resume our jog in silence, my eyes studying the wooden path beneath my feet as we descend one side of the hillock, travel level for a while and then ascend the side of another higher, hillock. Each step takes me further away from the field – I want to sprint towards the slaughter … instead I take a deep breath through my nose.
Upon the crest of the hill, I remove and return the loin cloth to Koria and with caution turn about to survey the field of dead. Stake upon stake displays a Goblin head, the now cleared thicket providing the stout wood. My Goblins must venture further afield to secure more stakes, which they setup yet don’t mount the heads. They must provision ahead of the slaughter. I estimate two hundred, perhaps two hundred and fifty heads with at least another fifty stakes waiting. They would probably be all Blood Suns; the other Tribes would reclaim their dead surely and bury them on their own land.
Without the smell of blood and death, no exacting details of the vanquished to examine the Hob rage doesn’t surface. I grunt an acceptance.
“Come,” I say as I turn away from the site and continue jogging towards the Head Village, a final downhill journey.
I wash my face in the stream flowing beside the village before visiting the Head Hob, my determination to remove their special fragrance amusing to my wives. Fub proves troublesome, and I need to demand an audience with the Head Hob who, I suspect upon hearing my yelling, waddles out of his back room leaning on a walking stick to investigate the uproar. I put my wives in charge of preparing us both a meal. Fub of course screaming and protesting about the use of his kitchen utensils and stove, leaving me alone with the Head Hob. I chuckle to myself as I overhear them threaten and order Fub to fetch more wood.
“Good of you to visit.” He pauses, a thin smile draws across his lips and I wonder about the joke. “Fuss and bother in the kitchen, a sweet noise … and what brings you here?”
“The cull. Blood Suns Tribe Goblin Heads stand upon stakes, over two hundred at last count although we are still discovering more,” I announce with a sense of pride in my voice.
“That isn’t many, they breed like rabbits do the Tribal Goblins or they can when the game is plentiful. I can’t believe only one hundred or so males were in the Tribe … keep looking young Hob, they may have taken to caves or the like.”
As he speaks my gut twists, the Hobgoblin culling of Goblins means annihilation of male, females and young … how do I temper this interpretation? Also, I suspect the Tribal Leaders of testing me and my expectations. Upon hearing the Head Hob, I am certain both sides of the cull are fully aware of the traditional outcome. I will need to address this with them of course, for now I need to be in this moment.
“I apologise Head Hob, the two hundred are the males. The females and the young I thought to put to work on the farm. Have I erred?”
His nose sniffs and drifts off towards the Kitchen.
“Those two with you are Tribal Goblins are they not?”
“Yes, I have been able to civilise them somewhat in basic things but especially cooking … they seem to use many wild growing herbs and vegetables.”
He drifts off for several moments and after a grunt and a nod he says, “Perhaps they can be made useful, the males are the bigger problem of course and you have dealt with them, I didn’t think they could muster two hundred males.”
A plate slides in front of the Head Hob, steam wafts up carrying the scents of a couple of basic condiments, salt, and a pepper like leaf. Saliva drips from his lips. He tests with a chunk of meat. Tough going and yet he savours the contest and the flavours. Our conversation dies as he concentrates on eating. Fub for his part fidgets, darting from Kitchen to Meeting Room his face souring in defeat every time the Head Hob moans with gourmet pleasure.
The Head Hob holds up his plate. “More,” he yells.
Duzsia is quick to comply and another plate slides under the Head Hob’s eager eyes and salivating lips.
After four plates, the Head Hob belches long and loud while patting his stomach.
With a sigh he closes his eyes and falls into a snoring sleep.
“See, see what you do, asleep in his chair not his bed, he will fall crack his skull open and blame Fub!”
My hand shoots out and I grab Fub around his neck. “Show me to his room.” I then fling the creature free. Once on his feet he skulks into a room opposite the entry doorway. Not a big surprise, the same room the Head Hob hobbled out from to greet me. A large bed, eight supporting legs with featherdown mattress on top awaits the Head Hob. Nice.
Returning to the Meeting Room, and with a grunt I heft the Head Hob up into my arms and careful step after careful step make my way back to his room and lay the Head Hob upon his bed, even drawing furs over him.
Turning to Fub I ask, “Where can we sleep?”
He points to the front door. “You leave!”