Once the travelers descended down the hill and entered the goblin settlement below, Ferrar didn’t waste any time. He immediately dragged the craftsman toward his workshop, and soon they were both out of sight. Blacknail had his own business to get down to, so he headed off in a different direction.
As was usual, it didn’t take him long to track down his target, Gob. As Blacknail’s second in command, he had been left in charge during Blacknail’s absence and would be able to update his boss about what had happened while he was gone.
Gob was standing in the empty patch of land in the middle of the settlement, and he wasn’t alone. He was surrounded by over two dozen other hobgoblins. It looked like they were doing training. Some of them were just watching, but most of the hobgoblins were sparring with wooden blades made from carved branches. Rather than hard combat, the training seemed to be more about self-control and form. None of the hobgoblins were going all out, and Gob was watching them carefully just in case. He wandered among the sparring hobgoblins while occasionally giving out advice and orders.
Blacknail nodded in approval. Discipline was more important than skill. Without the ability to control and suppress their emotions a hobgoblin was more of a liability than a useful tool.
Seeing Blacknail walking his way, Gob stopped what he was doing and hurried over to meet his boss. Their chief’s presence also drew the attention of many of the other hobgoblins. They glanced his way and more than a few of them began to pretend to work harder. Once he reached Blacknail’s side, Gob immediately gave him a quick salute.
“Welcome back, bossiest one! As always, I’m ready to obey your every command.”
Blacknail grimaced. “That’s not a compliment. Being bossy is a bad thing.”
Gob flinched. “Sorry, greatest of hobgoblins! I meant no offense.”
“Just don’t do it again,” Blacknail replied. He knew Gob had misspoken. Gob wouldn’t dare insult him, especially to his face.
A brief conversation was all it took to for Blacknail to learn that nothing all that interesting or unexpected had occurred while he’d been gone. He then took a few minutes to fill Gob in on what had happened during the trip Herstcrest.
“…and so I killed the humongous glowing god and conquered Herstcrest all by myself. Then, I gave it to Ilisiti because I already have a human town,” Blacknail said in conclusion.
“Truly your strength and power is without match. No man or god can stand against you!”
“Yep, I’m pretty amazing,” Blacknail agreed with a nod of approval. Gob sometimes had a way with words. Sometimes they were even the right words.
“Is there anything you wish me to do now?” Gob asked eagerly. He seemed to want to serve.
“For now, you can continue training the hobgoblins. That’s important, but there is some stuff I want you do later.”
“Like what, boss?”
“The cave I am staying in now is not worthy of my greatness. I’m going to need my minions to build me a mansion. It needs to be bigger than all the other buildings and be incredibly impressive looking. Everyone who looks at it should know that they need to respect me,” Blacknail explained.
“I will begin work this very day! It will be larger even than any building in Shelter!” Gob replied enthusiastically.
Blacknail smiled and nodded appreciatively. “That’s a very good point. Make sure you do that.”
It wouldn’t do to have anyone in Shelter looking down on him because they had a larger house than him. It was very important that all the humans there knew who was in charge. He was.
Before Blacknail could think up any more important features his house would need, his train of thought was interrupted by a scream. Closing his mouth, Blacknail glanced over his shoulder just in time to see a flaming goblin run out from behind a building. It was actually the goblin’s shirt that was on fire, but he certainly seemed to be in pain. He didn’t stop screaming as he ran past the hobgoblins and toward the creek outside the settlement walls. Blacknail sighed as he watched the goblin disappear. He was certain he knew where that goblin had just come from.
Blacknail grimaced as he turned back to Gob. “You’d better go make sure that goblin doesn’t set anything important on fire. I think I should go see what Ferrar is doing.”
He’d thought he could leave the fire-obsessed hobgoblin alone with his new toys, but obviously he’d been wrong. Very wrong.
Leaving Gob to his own duties, Blacknail headed through the settlement and toward Ferrar’s workshop. Soon, the hobgoblin’s workshop came into sight. It was a fairly large building made of mud bricks with a tiled roof. The original had been made of wood, but it had burned down. Several clay furnaces of different sizes and shapes surrounded the workshop, and off to one side was a pavilion made from four tall wooden posts with stitched hides stretched between them. Piles of materials were stored under there.
Ferrar and his recently acquired human helper were standing out in front of the building. The human seemed to just be watching with an amused – yet more than slightly frightened - look on his face, but Ferrar was directing a dozen goblins as they dug a hole and gathered up piles of bricks and clay. All the goblins were running in every direction while Ferrar yelled and waved his hands in the air.
“What are you doing?” Blacknail shouted as he stomped over. He needed to be loud to get everyone’s attention.
“We’re working fast! Soon, but not soon enough, we will be melting iron in the cleansing fire of a new furnace. The secret is the air and the waterless wood. Fire breathes, you see. You need to give it more air so it can grow stronger and hot enough to melt metal,” Ferrar laughed as he turned to give Blacknail a mad grin. He was practically vibrating with excitement.
Blacknail gave him a cold stare. “I just saw a goblin run by. He was on fire.”
Undaunted, Ferrar shrugged and kept grinning. “That happens. We’re doing science!”
Blacknail stared at Ferrar for several long seconds. He wasn’t sure what he could say that would get through to the other hobgoblin. Ferrar seemed to be in the middle of some sort of mad fit.
“Flaming goblins aren’t safe. This is my territory. If you burn anything or anyone important then I won’t allow you to keep burning things,” he eventually replied.
Ferrar’s smile didn’t slip. “Don’t worry, boss. I can be safe and fast at the same time!”
“I don’t think that’s true at all,” Blacknail countered. Ferrar didn’t seem to be paying attention, though. He turned back to the working goblins and yelled several new orders at them.
Instead, it was the human who answered. Still looking more than a little afraid, he turned to Blacknail and gave him a polite nod of greeting. “He certainly really likes his work, too much really. Don’t worry, though. I’ll keep things under control. This is just a small test and should be fairly safe.”
“Good. Just try not to get burned to death. That would annoy Ilisti and the people of Shelter,” Blacknail told the man. As he was talking, a goblin ran over with several large pieces of raw iron that had been taken out of one of the nearby caves. Some of the caverns were quite extensive and went on for a long time before ending.
All the commotion attracted some other attention. Imp’s workshop was nearby, and he wandered out to see what was going on. The hobgoblin mage carried the tall metal staff Blacknail had won from a human mage in one hand as he walked over.
“You’re back, chief. Did you encounter any magic on your trip,” Imp asked.
Blacknail sighed despondently in response. What was with some of his hobgoblins and obsessions with weird and dangerous things? Sure, it made them too useful to smack or kill, but it also made them dangerous and frustrating to deal with. Also, they were generally too needy to be good minions. They forgot to be properly respectful, and why did they need him to constantly solve their problems? He was the leader, not their subordinate.
“I did find some magic, and if you grovel a few times I’ll tell you about it,” Blacknail told the mage crossly.
Immediately, Imp did as he was told and bowed while praising his chieftain. A few minutes of this satisfied Blacknail, so he informed Imp about all the mana crystals and magical powers he’d encountered on his journey. The mention of the crystal that had controlled the slime seemed to interest him most of all.
“How amazing. Avorlus will be interested to learn of this. Yes, very much,” Imp exclaimed excitedly.
Once Imp’s curiosity had been sated, Blacknail wandered off. He had several other important things that needed done before he could settle down and take a well-deserved break. Ever since he’d been forced to leave Scamp behind at the other goblin camp, Blacknail had been distracted by thoughts about what the hobgoblins with him were getting up to. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they were conspiring against him. Now that they were safely away from his direct supervision it was possible they might use all the skills he’d taught them against their rightful leader. The ungrateful scum!
Thankfully, Ilisti had given some good advice on how to manage minions that were far away, and Blacknail had some good ideas of his own. He knew that in the future he would be forced to send lots of his minions off to different places were Gob and him couldn’t supervise them, so it was time to put some precautionary measures into place. Hobgoblins couldn’t be trusted.
The pig pen had grown a lot larger since the last time Blacknail had seen them. They were still next to a wooden shack with a thatch roof, but now the muddy pen itself was almost twice as large as it had been, although it was still encircled by a ramshackle fence made up of tied together branches sticking out from the ground. As expected, there were several large pigs and boars wallowing in the mud. Even though they were all young, some of them were already much heavier looking than Blacknail, and they would undoubtedly keep growing. The boar that had fathered them had been many times a hobgoblin’s size before his death at Blacknail’s hands.
“Is there anyone inside? Your leader is here. Come and praise me!” Blacknail yelled as he approached the hut.
The last time he’d been here the hobgoblin in charge had been rolling around in the mud with the pigs, but he didn’t seem to be there now. Unless he was under the mud… or had been eaten by the pigs…
A series of thuds from inside the hut drew Blacknail’s attention, and a few seconds later a scrawny hobgoblin stepped out and saluted him. Blacknail didn’t recognize him, but that was probably because he was fairly clean instead of coated in mud.
“Thank you for visiting this pathetic hobgoblin, chief. How can I help you?” the hobgoblin asked.
Blacknail gave him a stern nod. “I’m going to have a job for you and your animals soon. How many of them are strong and tame enough to be put to work out in the Green?”
“I have around a dozen good strong pigs, and soon I will have even more. They are good boys and girls, and because of your incredibly wise orders, the hunters are still bringing in more young pigs to join my herd.”
“Ah, right,” Blacknail mused. He’d given that order a while back. It had mostly been to help clear land for planting and create an emergency meat supply, but now the beasts would serve another purpose. It was a good thing he hadn’t cancelled the order after those two hobgoblins had been mauled to death by an angry boar that had objected to them stealing his children.
“What exactly do you want my herd to do?” the hobgoblin herder asked.
“I will be building some roads. So, I’m going to need them to uproot a lot of bushes and haul logs and materials around.”
“They can do that, no problem. They are good, smart animals. Yes, they are.”
“You really seem to like the pigs a lot. You’re always here with them,” Blacknail observed. Obviously, this was another hobgoblin obsessed with something weird.
“I like being with them and playing with them. They’re my friends. Unlike other hobgoblins, they’re nice to me and bring me presents, instead of hitting me. Also, they smell much better and are much cleaner than hobgoblins.”
“Probably,” Blacknail admitted. Hobgoblins weren’t big on personal hygiene, but they did like hitting each other. A closer look at the hobgoblin in front of him, revealed several scars on arms and face. He seemed to have lost a few fights, which wasn’t a surprise given how scrawny he was. Well, it wasn’t Blacknail’s problem, and he seemed happy enough to be useful.
After a brief conversation about the pigs, Blacknail quickly excused himself. He was getting tired and experience had taught him that hobgoblins could talk about their fixations forever without end. Blacknail wandered the camp and spoke to a few more hobgoblins before going to get something to eat and relaxing for the rest of the day. He scowled at the entrance to his cave and grumbled to himself in dissatisfaction before entering it. He really needed to get his mansion built. An important leader like himself needed a huge fancy dwelling that instilled awe and fear in all his minions, and a great leader certainly didn’t live in hole in the ground.
Blacknail spent some of the next two days relaxing, but during his absence a lot of small problems and work no one else could do had built up. Instead of eating and sleeping all the time, he was forced to go around and manage a lot of hobgoblins that wanted his input or orders. Only when all that was done did he have time to rest and recuperate from all his travelling. Why was being the boss so much work?
Ferrar and his new helper were also quite busy. They had finished constructing their new smelting furnace last night and had lit a small fire inside it to harden its clay walls. That fire had burned out over the night, allowing the furnace to cool. The device was a cylinder that was open at the top and made from bricks held together by clay. It rose up from a mound of earth and there was a big hole at the bottom of it. A pile of black ashes had spilled out from that hole. They couldn’t use it yet, though. Instead, they were gathering up wood and tinder to create fuel for the furnace. Once the wood was stacked up vertically, they slathered the pile with clay and completely covered it except for a few holes at the bottom and one at the very top. The wood and tinder were then set on alight, and once it was nicely aflame the holes at the bottom were sealed. When the fire had died down, the mound was torn open to reveal the charred black remains of the wood.
Apparently, this burnt wood was called charcoal and it burned hotter than normal wood. Blacknail found that very doubtful and it made no sense to him. Shouldn't wood that had already been burnt be less useful as fuel? Well, whatever. Ferrar and the human craftsman were the experts.
It took a while for the charcoal to cool down, so Ferrar was forced to wait another day before attempting to actually melt some raw iron ore into useable ingots.
When the next morning came, Blacknail woke up and got to work again. He grinned in excitement as he shoved the cloth that hung across his door and stepped outside. Today he would be taking several steps toward the fulfillment of the plan he’d began the moment he’d recovered from the death of his master. Werrick didn’t know it, but his death was inevitably stalking closer.
The first thing Blacknail did was go and check on what Ferrar had accomplished yesterday, and make sure he was still alive and completely intact. The hobgoblin had still been working when Blacknail went to sleep, but he found the fire-obsessed tinkerer already up and working on the smelting furnace. He’d already loaded some iron ore and charcoal into the smelter. Now several goblins were taking turns at the bellows that he’d acquired somewhere and was using to pump air into the structure.
“This is a small furnace and won’t make much metal, but if it works I can build a bigger one,” Ferrar explained.
“And I’ll be able to go to Shelter and see my daughter for a few days while he sets up the next phase of our experiment,” the human craftsman added. He looked and sounded tired, which wasn’t surprising. He’d been sleeping in Ferrar’s workshop. Blacknail doubted Ferrar was anything like a good roommate, especially over the past few days. He’d been a little intense about this project.
“So, if this works then you will be able to make iron tools?” Blacknail asked. He wanted to make sure he was going to get something useful out of all this rather tiring fuss. There had already been another flaming goblin incident.
“Yes, I’m told there is a blacksmith in Shelter that will be able to forge the metal for you,” the man replied.
“Good,” Blacknail exclaimed gleefully as he rubbed his hands together. It was time to bend the people of Shelter completely to his will.
Turning away from the workers, Blacknail headed over to gather up some minions to send to Shelter and invite the important people there over to see his new furnace in action. The pieces were in place. All he had to do was tell the simple humans what they wanted to hear and give them some meaningless trinkets and they would be clay in his hands. Today, his settlement would become a power to be reckoned with and finally began to change the North to suit its master's vengeful will.