After the goblin’s ambush, the trek through the forest was uneventful. The feral hobgoblin led the way for around half an hour, and they soon emerged from out of the trees into an overgrown clearing full of thick bushes that were too tall to see over.
Blacknail instantly recognized the area. The main road wasn’t too far from here. Last year, during his trip to Daggerpoint he had been attacked by the hobgoblin that had ruled this territory. After a long brutal fight to the death where Blacknail had been forced to use all his impressive cunning and skill, he’d then had to stop and rest with the local tribe for a while before moving on.
Gob hadn’t been around then. Blacknail eyed the hobgoblin suspiciously out of the corner of his eye. Gob must have been a mere goblin during Blacknail’s last visit, and only transformed into a hobgoblin after Blacknail had left to catch up with Herad and Saeter.
Well, the important thing was that the tribe should have plenty of food. Blacknail had spent a fair amount of time teaching the goblins here how to trap animals and smoke meat. If the stupid little critters had already forgotten his lessons then Blacknail was going to be very mad. One way or another, they were going to be providing him with as much food as he wanted to eat.
A breeze swept through the trees as Blacknail began to push his way through the bushes in front of him. His new goblin followers were right behind him, but a sudden low growl which was followed by a fearful yelp stopped his advance. He turned around to see what was happening and sighed. It was probably something dumb and annoying. His minions had problems with even the simplest instructions.
The people behind Blacknail had stopped moving. Gob was growling menacingly at Geralhd while standing in his way. The humans had backed away from the suddenly hostile hobgoblin and were looking nervous. Their posture was tense and a few of them had started to reach for their weapons. Scamp and Imp stood off to the side and watched.
“What now?” Blacknail mumbled to himself as he walked back to see what all the commotion was about. It didn’t look like Gob was going to attack anyone but he was obviously upset about something.
“What did you do?” Blacknail called out to Geralhd.
“Nothing, he just won’t let us pass!” the young man replied with obvious exasperation.
As if in response, Gob growled again and glared at Geralhd menacingly. The hobgoblin wasn’t brandishing his weapon though, so Blacknail carefully observed the situation for a few moments before a possible explanation occurred to him.
“Ah, you need to bow!” Blacknail declared with sudden understanding as he met Geralhd’s gaze. It all made sense now.
The hobgoblin ranger rolled his eyes. How could anyone possibly survive long enough to reach adulthood without knowing this sort of thing? It was so basic.
“Gob is angry because you’re strangers. You need to join the tribe before he’ll let you near his lair.”
“And how do we do that?” Geralhd asked.
“Bow before me, your great leader, like Gob did before.”
Why did he have to explain this? It was really obvious and he had just answered this question a second ago.
“I’m not doing that,” a blonde woman replied as she grimaced distastefully.
“There must be an easier way to show him that we’re not a threat,” Geralhd remarked.
“Sometimes goblin leaders piss on their...” Blacknail started to suggest before he was interrupted.
“Bowing it is,” the blonde woman quickly cut in.
“What happens if we do neither?” a bearded bandit whose name Blacknail kept forgetting asked.
“Then you stay here while I go get something to eat,” Blacknail replied callously. He was a little annoyed at being cut off.
After a lot of unhappy grumbling, all the bandits knelt in front of Blacknail, even if they did it reluctantly and as quickly as possible. Blacknail couldn’t stop himself from smirking the entire time. It was just too satisfying to see all his hard work and sacrifice pay off. He was finally being treated like he so rightly deserved to be, as the chief. When the last human had finished bowing, Gob nodded happily to himself and got out of the way. Blacknail felt a little better about having the hobgoblin around now. He was proving to be useful.
“Now that you have joined the tribe you can enter,” Blacknail told everyone before turning around and leading the way into the clearing. All the goblins except for Scamp and Imp had already gone ahead.
“I swear to the gods, there had better actually be food here or I’m going to kill someone,” a bandit remarked bitterly as he followed Blacknail. There was also a bit more grumbling from some of the others, but none of them decided to stay behind. They all trailed after Blacknail as he headed towards the goblin’s lair.
A few minutes later, a sense of nostalgia washed over Blacknail as he pushed aside the last bush. The goblin’s lair had changed a lot since his last visit but it was still recognizable. The tribe had built their home atop the old ruin of a large human dwelling. The worn down remnants of the building’s walls could be seen encircling it. The goblins had reinforced the breaks in the old brick wall with wooden stacks so that they had a defensive barrier. When Blacknail had been here before the wall’s interior had been almost bare. There had only been a few small structures made up of loosely piled branches leaning up against the walls, but now a large new building was visible.
This new structure looked large enough to hold a dozen men, even if they had to slouch over because of the low roof. It was made up of branches that had been carefully woven together and reinforced with twine. Layers of bark had been tied to the roof and walls to block out the wind and rain, although a few spots used tarp or bits of cloth that had obviously been stolen from humans.
The rest of the goblin camp was mostly packed dirt and a few tiny dwellings, except for where a large fire pit sat in the center of the site. Right where Blacknail remembered it, a huge old pot was hanging over the fire pit.
“Incredible, I didn’t know goblins still made things like this,” Geralhd remarked breathlessly as he looked around.
“I showed them how to do stuff like that,” Blacknail bragged.
“Ya, it’s great if you love dirt and twigs,” another bandit observed sarcastically.
“Where’s the food?” Khita asked. Her priorities were clear.
“Just wait. Soon we will have a feast to celebrate my great leadership!” Blacknail responded as he looked around.
The feral goblins were lurking around the edges of the camp. They were staring at the humans but also giving them plenty of room. In sharp contrast, Gob was sticking close to the intruders. He slowly circled them while glaring suspiciously their way, and his attitude clearly unnerved some of the bandits. Blacknail ignored all that. He quickly walked over to the fire pit and examined the pot. He was intent on planning his victory celebration. A great chieftain deserved a great feast.
The first thing Blacknail needed to do was round up some goblins, so that’s what he did. He stalked over to the closest one and grabbed it before it could escape. Then, he hoisted it up into the air and shook it a few times to get its attention. When he was sure the goblin knew who was the boss, he gestured towards the pot and then in the direction where he knew a creek lay. The goblin seemed to understand because it nodded along enthusiastically, so Blacknail dropped it.
Soon, Gob was leading a group of goblins over to the creek to fetch water. Through various physical threats, complicated gestures, and bouts of angry hissing Blacknail got a few more parties of goblins working on other jobs. Most importantly, he sent them out to gather food, or at least he hoped that’s what they were doing. It was either that or they were going to set fire to the forest. He would find out soon enough.
“You really should be trying to teach them some Elorian, it would make this much easier,” Gerlahd said as he observed Blacknail work. All the bandits that had come with Blacknail had found places to sit and rest at one end of the camp. They watched the goings-on with wary attention.
“What’s Elorain?” Blacknail asked doubtfully.
“It’s the language we are speaking right now,” Geralhd explained with obvious amusement. There was a slight smirk on his lips.
“Oh, right, I knew that. I’m just too busy right now for more lessons,” the hobgoblin replied.
“Then maybe I’ll do it. Scamp learned it fairly quickly,” the young man mused aloud as he looked towards the large hut the goblins had built.
“Go ahead,” Blacknail said distractedly as the first of goblins began to filter back in.
It wasn’t long before the big pot was filled with water and hauled up above the fire pit by Gob and a few goblins. Piles of leaves, roots, firewood, and small game where piled up off to one side. The goblin tribe was quite skilled at hunting rabbits, birds, and squirrels.
The feral tribe quickly grew excited as Blacknail began throwing ingredients into the pot. He had cooked for them during his last visit as well, and apparently they had liked it. They goblins slipped past the nearby humans in order to peer over his shoulder, and he had to smack a few to keep them out of his way.
“It’s done!” Blacknail announced happily a few minutes later. The smell of the stew now filled the air.
As the feral goblins fought amongst themselves over the few bowls they possessed, the bandits began serving themselves. They were briefly interrupted when a growling Gob forced his way to the front of the line. However, no one tried to fight the hobgoblin, so he took his food and withdrew peacefully.
“Huh, this isn’t half bad,” Elyias remarked in surprise after sitting down and tasting the food.
“It’s the nectar of the gods compared to the stuff we were eating yesterday,” another bandit added.
“Ya, if I went another day eating nothing but raw leaves I was going to go crazy,” a third agreed. “That and shit my brains out.”
When all the humans had gotten out of the way, an unruly crowd of goblins ran over to get their own food. Scamp and Imp had been behind the last bandit so they were in the swarm’s way. Scamp had to fight his way through the mob. He hissed and scratched anyone who got too close to the bowl he had pressed protectively against his chest. In sharp contrast, none of the ferals bothered Imp. Whenever one got too close he directed a cold stare their way and they scurried away.
Of course, Blacknail had taken the first bowl for himself. He just finished slurping the meal down when the feral goblins finished emptying the rest of the pot. However, since there were still plenty of ingredients left it didn’t take him very long for him to get another batch going. He was almost finished when his cooking was briefly interrupted by a loud screech from Khita that hurt his ears.
“Hey, that’s mine!” the redhead yelled as she jumped to her feet.
A goblin had somehow managed to get its hands on her knife. The little creature quickly ran off into the bushes outside of the camp and Khita disappeared after it. Blacknail snickered in amusement at the sight. What kind of idiot let her stuff get stolen by goblins?
After he had finished cooking, Blacknail yawned and decided to take a nap. He had stuffed himself and his full stomach was making him more than little sleepy, but before he could nod off he was interrupted.
“Blacknail, what are we supposed to do now?” Geralhd asked nervously after walking over to his side.
“Sleep,” the hobgoblin replied crossly.
“Where should we do that?” Geralhd enquired in a frustrated tone. “We need shelter and I don’t want to anger our... hosts.”
“We also need some way to prevent the goblins from slitting our throats while we sleep,” Elyias added. The young bandit sounded nervous and he kept glancing around every time there was the slightest of noises or movement by a goblin.
Blacknail sighed and sat up. Couldn’t the humans do anything for themselves? Did they really need him to tell them where to sleep?
After a brief conversation, Blacknail led Geralhd on a tour of the feral goblins’ camp. The young bandit was surprised when Blacknail pulled open a makeshift trapdoor to reveal a staircase that led downwards into the ground.
“Oh, this must be an old root cellar,” Geralhd observed as they walked down into a fair sized room with stone walls. There were a few goblins lurking about, but Blacknail hissed and they quickly disappeared into a small tunnel in one of the walls. This was where the hobgoblin had slept the last time he was here.
It was getting dark outside and there wasn’t much light in the underground chamber, so Blacknail walked over to the fireplace he had dug into the wall during his last visit. There was already a tiny bit of dry wood and grass inside, so it only took a few seconds to get a fire going using sparks from a piece of flint and steel.
“Yes, it’s a little dirty, but will work quite well,” Geralhd remarked as he looked around. “We can seal that hole there easily enough and then there is only one way in. I don’t mean to offend your... friends, but I know we’ll all sleep sounder in a secure location.”
“I don’t trust goblins either,” Blacknail replied indifferently. Why would you ever trust a goblin? Of course, humans were just as bad in their own way. Blacknail’s heart twisted painfully for a second as several memories suddenly overcame him. The only human he had ever really trusted had been Saeter, and now his master was dead. That meant Blacknail was the only trustworthy person left. Being so loyal and incredibly amazing was a lonely burden.
“I’m going to sleep now. Don’t bother me,” Blacknail announced before getting his blanket out and curling up in one corner of the room.The humans could sort everything out now, and he didn’t really feel like interacting with feral goblins right now, not even the female ones. For some reason, he just wasn’t as interested in them as he had used to be. They were kind of short and flat-chested... Wait, why was he thinking about this?
It wasn’t long before all the bandits started coming down into the cellar. Some of them brought wood to feed the fire. The flickering flames lit the room as everyone set up for the night.
It was several hours after that when Khita finally showed up again. Blacknail awoke to the sound of her stomping down the stairs. Her clothes were covered with mud and her exposed skin had scratches on it. She looked like she’d gotten into a fight with a thorn bush.
“Did you get your knife back?” he asked her snidely.
“Fuck you, you miserable bastard,” she snarled in reply before going to sit over by the fire. Blacknail was fairly sure that meant she hadn’t gotten her knife back.
After an otherwise uneventful night, Blacknail led the bandits out of the root cellar and back up to the fire pit. He sighed as he observed how nervous and fearful they were acting. Why were they so afraid of a few goblins and one hobgoblin? They were a bunch of big humans with steel weapons!
Gob greeted his new chieftain by kneeling on the ground before him, which pleased Blacknail greatly. Maybe the hobgoblin wasn’t so bad after all, and that meant there was no reason to kill him and make it look like an accident. Blacknail had spent some time last night thinking about the best way to go about that. Goblin chiefs weren’t supposed to kill their subordinates but it happened all the time, especially when those subordinates got uppity.
“Hey that’s my knife!” Khita exclaimed when she noticed the item tucked into the side of the hobgoblin’s loin cloth.
She reached over to take it, but Gob stepped back and hissed at her. The redhead and the hobgoblin then stared at each other. Neither seemed likely to back down.
“Don’t start anything,” Geralhd warned her. He clearly didn’t want a fight to break out.
“Make him give it back,” Khita told Blacknail.
“Get it back yourself,” Blacknail replied. He didn’t like the tone of her voice. He was the leader and didn’t take orders from anyone.
“Is this some sort of hobgoblin test? To see if I’m sneaky enough to steal it back and prove myself?” the redhead asked as her eyes narrowed with sudden suspicion.
“No, I just don’t care,” Blacknail remarked flatly. If Khita couldn’t hold onto her own stuff then that wasn’t his problem.
“You’ve become kind of an ass lately, Blacknail,” Khita huffed in reply as she scowled at him.
“Nope, wrong,” the hobgoblin replied dismissively. He was completely sure he hadn’t changed at all. There was just no one around to force him to do stupid things anymore, like care about Khita or take baths.
Life was better when you were the leader.