Blacknail was walking through the forest. He had left the goblin settlement behind him and was headed to Shelter. There were things he had to talk to the humans about and he wanted to get some distance from the other hobgoblins. He had mostly gotten used to having them around but they still made him a little uneasy. It was nice to get away and relax sometimes. When he had first come up with the idea to create a small group of hobgoblin minions to help keep his human ones in line he’d failed to realize how complicated dealing with them would be. He had just planned on killing a few as an example. Herah alone caused him quite a bit of anxiety.
As he followed the thin dirt trail, Blacknail ducked under a leafy branch and jumped over a muddy puddle. He was almost to the village now. Suddenly, the hobgoblin noticed something out of the corner of his eye. There was a track in the mud, and it belonged to a wolf. Suspiciously, Blacknail leaned over and brushed aside a few nearby plant leaves as he scanned the ground for any more signs. However, after sniffing the ground and only detecting one unique scent he decided that there was only one wolf nearby. It was probably a survivor from the pack of the mutant he had slain in glorious battle. The track was fresh but a single wolf wasn’t much of a threat – Blacknail had easily defeated the Alpha after all - so he continued on his way. He wanted to reach Shelter before too long.
A few more minutes passed. Blacknail was just about to reach the edge of the forest when he heard a noise from off in the distance. The hobgoblin looked around but didn’t see anything. Had another hobgoblin followed him? If they had then they were going to get smacked aside the head.
Blacknail still didn’t see anyone so he listened carefully. It sounded like someone was talking off in the forest, so he stepped off the path and headed over to find the source. If there was something going on he wanted to know about it. Hunters sometimes left Shelter but the hobgoblin never had a problem detecting and avoiding them.
Carefully, Blacknail peeked out from behind a tree. He quickly spotted the source of the noise. It was one of the human children from the village, the unimportant young male with brown hair. Aris was his name. He was leaning against a tall tree with rough bark and there was a frustrated scowl on his face.
Blacknail’s first instinct was to sneak up, knock him over the head, and see if he had any items worth claiming, but that was beneath him now. He was a great leader! If he wanted something he just ordered his minions to hand it over. His second instinct was to leave the human alone, but there was a wolf around. Bringing the stupid human back with him seemed like a good way to earn some good will. The hobgoblin pulled his hood up and wrapped his scarf around his face. His frighteningly handsome face and green skin were now completely concealed.
“She didn’t have to turn me down so quickly,” Aris muttered to himself before kicking a rock into a clump of bushes. “Stupid girls. Why am I always the one left out?”
Blacknail took the opportunity to step out from behind the tree and call out to the human. “You shouldn’t be out here by yourself. Something might decide you look tasty.”
The hobgoblin’s voice startled the young man. He jumped and spun around to see who had spoken. His eyes went wide with fear when he spotted Blacknail but then he calmed down as he realized who the hooded figure had to be.
“Ah, how much of that did you hear?” Aris asked Blacknail tentatively. His cheeks had turned more than a little red from embarrassment.
“Um, less than all of it but more than nothing,” Blacknail remarked as he stepped closer and scratched the side of his head through his hood. What kind of dumb human question was that?
“Anyway, you’re not the boss of me, so you can’t tell me what to do,” Aris replied surly.
“I’m the boss everyone I say I am, and I can tell you what to do because you’re dumber than me. If you had any smarts at all then you wouldn’t be out here alone. It’s dangerous for a useless person like you.”
“It’s not that dangerous and I’m not useless.”
“Saying that just proves how useless you are. The Green is always dangerous. That was the first thing my master taught me, that and how to braid twine. I spent a lot of time making rope…”
“This part of the forest is as safe as it gets. That’s all I meant. You’re the newcomer here. I’ve lived here my entire life, asshole,” Aris huffed in reply.
“So you know there are hungry wolves about? I just found some fresh tracks, but if you think it’s safe you can stay here, youngling,” Blacknail countered. If the annoying little human wanted to die then Blacknail wasn’t going to go out of his way to save him.
“Just follow me. I will take you back to Shelter,” Blacknail told him as he stopped in front of the young man and motioned in the direction of the village. The sooner he got this young idiot back to the village the less he would have to listen to his drivel.
“Fine, but how much of what I said earlier did you hear?”
“You were whining about girls,” Blacknail replied without interest as he turned and started walking again. Aris winced and reddened again at Blacknail’s blunt response but he didn’t deny it.
“It’s just that Joan hasn’t had any time to do anything with me for the past while. She’s always busy doing some stupid pottery stuff or getting up to the gods know what with Khita,” the young man explained.
“I didn’t ask.”
“I’ve barely seen her for days. We grew up together and Khita is just a newcomer, a total stranger!” Aris continued as if Blacknail hadn’t said anything.
“Why do you people keep telling me these things?” Blacknail asked. He seriously wanted to know. He had no interest in the minutia of human existence but they kept telling him about it.
“I guess you just seem like a good listener. You’re very laidback and quiet. You also seem to always know what you are doing.”
Blacknail sighed to himself in resignation before responding. If Aris was going to keep asking these questions then he might as well give his honest opinion. “Do you have a real question?”
“I was just wondering if you have any advice on girls.”
After thinking about the question for a few moments Blacknail voiced his thoughts on the matter. “They are trouble. You need to watch them carefully so that they can’t stab you in the back.”
“Ya, I think I see what you mean. Joan really shouldn’t be ditching me like this,” Aris replied with obvious frustration. The pair then walked in silence for a few brief moments. Blacknail didn’t think Aris had really understood what he’d meant.
“So um…Blacknail, I’d like to go with you,” the young man asked after a few all too brief seconds.
“Probably, getting back to the village will be much safer with me.”
“No, I mean when you leave the Shelter.”
“You want to go to my camp?”
“No, when you leave the village for good! I want to accompany you and your friends when you go South. I know you will be leaving eventually.”
“Ya, I could always use another human minion.”
“Why did you just mention the fact that I’m human?”
“Because you are?
“I guess that’s true… but you’re still weird. Also, you’re not supposed to agree with me. You’re supposed to tell me to stay in the village and do as the elders tell me.”
“Why would I do that? Will the elders kill either of us if we disobey them?”
“Um, no. They will probably just scold me and give me chores.”
“Then what they want doesn’t matter. You should do whatever helps me the most.” Blacknail would kill people who disobeyed him.
“You’re very honest.”
“Always. I was taught that lying to people you don’t intend to kill is a bad idea. It makes you look bad,” Blacknail explained as he nodded sagely. The other trick was lying in such a way that you never got caught. Blacknail was an expert at that.
When they reached the village gate Blacknail parted with the Aris and went to find Tannin. As he was walking through the village, he spotted a goblin sitting on a barrel. It was right out in the open and appeared to simply be resting as it leisurely looked around. An older village woman passed it by and didn’t give it a second glance. It seemed like the goblins had already been completely accepted by the villagers. That was good. It would make talking to Tannin much easier.
It only took Blacknail a few minutes to find Tannin. The village elder was talking to some men in the village center. Blacknail waited for them to leave before approaching. Much to Blacknail’s surprise, it didn’t take much effort to convince Tannin to try using the goblins as farm laborers. Tannin seemed impressed by what the goblins had managed so far.
“You know, that’s a clever idea you got there. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get some of the old worked lands productive again,” Tannin explained enthusiastically. “The fact that year after year the fields have been getting smaller has been weighing down on me like a fat sow. We just haven’t had the manpower we need to keep the forest back.”
“Goblins can definitely help you there. Being forced to do simple repetitive things is their specialty. They can also dig well.”
“The labor is nice but it’s the increased safety that really intrigues me.” Tannin explained. “We can’t afford to lose any villagers to the dangers of the forest, but if we use goblins to do most the dangerous work…”
“Exactly, they’re also great that way. There are always more goblins!” Blacknail agreed.
“Yes, I think this is a great idea with lots of potential,” Tannin replied as he nodded along happily. “Thank you for suggesting it; it sounds so crazy that I would have never come up with it myself. However, the goblins you got us have proven so useful as pest control already. There hasn’t been a single loss of stores since they settled in. Some people are even teaching them tricks.”
“Goblins can do a lot. They even use them to clean sewers in some places. I know a lot about that.”
“I thought you said your master was the one who started training goblins.”
“He was, but I’m from the South and I’ve seen them work there.”
“Oh, where exactly do you hail from?”
Blacknail stiffened. He had been telling the truth. He really did come from a city in the South. He had spent most of his life there, but he had no idea what it was called. Names hadn’t mattered much to him back then.
“…Southmantown?” he suggested.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Tannin replied dryly.
“Well, they have big sewers there and they use goblins to clean them. They keep the rats out. Rats are tasty… if you’re a goblin, which I’m not.”
“Er.. right,” Tannin replied uncertainly. There was an awkward silence as Blacknail and him stared at each other for a few moments.
“Hey, Blacknail! There you are,” someone suddenly yelled from off to one side. The hobgoblin turned to see Geralhd and another bandit coming down the street towards him. Looking closer, Blacknail realized that the second man was Beardy, he had simply trimmed his beard so that it was much smaller now.
“We need to talk to you,” Geralhd announced as he walked over.
“I’ll just leave you fellows alone then. I got business of my own I need to get to,” Tannin remarked before nodding politely and wandering off.
That left Blacknail alone until the other two bandits got to him. He considered running off for a second, but swiftly discarded that idea. He had a good idea of what Geralhd wanted, and it wouldn’t be problem. Blacknail’s plan was already in motion.
“Hello, friends,” Blacknail said as he waved at the newcomers.
“It’s about time you showed up,” Beardy growled. “We’ve been waiting around here forever.”
“I’ve been busy. Surviving in the Green is hard. You need to do a lot of difficult hunting and stuff,” Blacknail replied as he shrugged indifferently.
“Still, it was beginning to look like you were avoiding us,” Geralhd told him. “We’ve been wanting to talk to you, but when you do enter the village you always slip away without contacting me or any of the others.”
“You could just ask Khita.”
“We’re not going to have a serious conversation by passing messages through that maniac. Every new dawn that sees her still alive is a minor marvel,” Beardy commented as he glowered.
“This is serious, is it?” Blacknail asked innocently. This caused Beardy’s frown to deepen, but that had been the point. It was fun to needle him.
“It’s serious enough. You’re our band’s ranger and an important part of our group. We need to be able to reach you,” Geralhd told him.
“I’m the leader, so that’s very true. Now what do you want, my faithful minions?”
Geralhd rubbed his forehead and looked down for a second. Beardy just grunted in annoyance. Their reactions continued to amuse the hobgoblin. He had to stifle a smile. Humans could be so predictable. They always thought they were smarter than him. A moment later, Beardy threw Geralhd a meaningful look that seemed to say that the other man should do the talking.
“We’ve been here in this little backwater village long enough. It’s time to leave. We’ve managed to repair our gear and gather supplies so there is no reason to stick around any longer,” Geralhd said.
“Exactly. It’s time to hit the road,” Beardy interjected.
“Right now?” Blacknail asked with fake confusion.
“No, in a day or two. We just need to make sure you’re ready to guide us… and lead us.”
“And don’t tell anyone about this. We plan on slipping away at the crack of dawn when the village is asleep. They might get upset if they find out, and there is no reason to upset them,” Beardy added.
“Alright, if that’s what you want. I’m tired of this place as well. I want to go somewhere with a better selection of cheese, and I’m sick of staying out in the forest where I have to hunt. Ugh, camping is so much work,” Blacknail told them as he scowled in distaste and kicked the ground for extra effect.
He was fine with the bandits’ plan. They had said exactly what he thought they were going to say and he had already accounted for their actions. The third phase – or was it the fourth? - of Blacknail’s ingenious plan would probably kick in before the date of departure, and if not then Blacknail could just stall them. It wasn’t like they could go anywhere without him. It might be amusing to fake an injury or something…
“I’m glad you agree with our unworthy idea, wise leader,” Beardy remarked as he rolled his eyes. Blacknail suspected he was being sarcastic.
“Hmm, it’s nice to finally have a plan in place,” Geralhd said as he smiled cheerfully. “I was afraid I was never going to feel the sweet taste of fine wine on the tip of my tongue ever again.”
“Yes, it is nice to have a plan. You can accomplish anything, and kill anyone, if you have a good plan, no matter how long it takes,” Blacknail replied as he pulled down his scarf and gave the bandits a vicious smile that revealed all his teeth. He couldn’t help but gloat a little. He had been bottling in his feelings for so long. He wanted to kill!
This statement didn’t appear to please either of the bandits. Geralhd grinned back uncertainly and Beardy’s face went carefully neutral. He seemed to be thinking something over.
“Blacknail, what is it that you actually want? I just realized that I don’t know?” Geralhd asked a second later.
“I just want to help you!” the hobgoblin answered as he spread his hands out in a friendly manner. His humans just didn’t know what they really needed. It was lucky for them that their leader did.
“That is incredibly unlikely,” Beardy muttered to himself sourly.
Suddenly, there was bout of yelling from the direction of the village gate. It was swiftly followed by the sound of a horn. The long bellow echoed out over the roofs of the village, and immediately drew everyone’s attention. They all turned to look toward the gate.
“What was that?” Geralhd asked.
Since neither of his companions knew, the trio quickly decided to head for the gate and find out. No one blew a horn like that for no reason. Before they got to their destination they encountered Tannin. He was huddled with a dozen other men from the village. They all looked uneasy and upset.
“What’s going on?” Geralhd asked them as they jogged over.
“That was our warning horn. There is a large group of armed men crossing the field, and they look about as friendly as a troll with an arrow up its ass,” Tannin cursed. His face was uncharacteristically pale and there was a fearful tremor to his voice.
Oh, hey! The enemy was early. Blacknail stepped behind Beardy and did a little happy dance. Elyias must have done a good job. That man deserved a reward. Blacknail hoped he was still alive.