Saeter had made it look so easy, but every time he tried he ruined the fibres or tied them into a useless knot. One time he had even somehow managed to get his hand entangled in the fibres and he had been forced to chew it free. Everything he touched was destroyed! He whimpered in self-pity and fear of punishment.
After instructing him his master had moved over to the other side of his camp and for some reason was repeatedly stabbing and slicing a small block of wood with a knife. Clearly he was very mad. Saeter would look up every once and awhile to check on the goblin, and every time he did Blacknail cringed in shame.
He had been doing so well earlier! He had completed every task his new master had given him, but now all that was ruined because he couldn't twist a bunch of plants together. His new master would surely throw him out into the forest now or kill him himself!
“That's enough,” Saeter said suddenly as he put down the piece of wood and walked over to the goblin with an exasperated look on his face.
Blacknail looked up from the rope he was desperately trying to weave and cringed at his master's approach.
“You'll have plenty of time to practice later. Eventually you'll get it. Right now you're trying too hard,” Saeter told Blacknail.
The goblin was overcome by surprise and relief. He wasn't going to be punished? But he had failed his master...
Saeter strode over to his campsite and rummaged through a bag. This left Blacknail confused as to what was going on. After a few seconds Saeter pulled out some cord and leather.
He then took out a needle and pulled the cord through the two leather pieces several times to create a crude loincloth, which he tied around Blacknail's waist. Blacknail was now very confused and gave his master an uncomprehending look. What was going on? Saeter was a very strange master.
“You'll wear this at all times or you’’ll be punished. You'd better learn to make these yourself or you'll be punished. If you want warmer or better clothes then you will have to make them yourself,” Saeter told Blacknail sternly as the confused goblin adjusted the loincloth around his waist.
“Yes Master. I wear this always. I learn to work so I not be punished,” he replied submissively.
For good effect he also fell to his knees and groveled on the ground a bit. Well, a lot more than a bit actually. Grovelling was his go to response in almost every situation. That and running away as fast as his little legs would carry him.
The loincloth was useless and annoying to wear but it was obviously a sign of his master's ownership and protection. Hopefully once the other humans saw he belonged to Saeter it would prevent them from hitting or killing him.
The tall human frowned in irritation at the goblin's groveling but nodded in satisfaction at Blacknail's verbal response. The goblin took this as a sign to climb back to his feet. Just then another voice rang out through the clearing.
“Saeter, you old recluse, I can't imagine what's going through your head. To just skip out on helping load up all the loot, without so much as a word, and to do what? Muck around with a bloody goblin!” a deep female voice yelled.
Blacknail looked over to see a tall muscular woman with short brown hair approaching. She was taller than most the men in the camp except for Saeter, but she looked stronger than him. However, her body was obviously that of a female and she still had a feminine figure, just a large one.
The woman wore a heavy cloth shirt that was partly unlaced at the top to reveal her ample cleavage. She wore long practical leather pants and carried a rather large sword at her hip.
Most importantly, she didn’t look like a threat. The big grin on her face, her cheerful green eyes, and the relaxed way she held herself made Blacknail think she wasn't dangerous to him.
“Hello, Vorscha. I'm busy,” Saeter responded with barely a glance her way.
Following Vorscha was another male bandit. He was shorter and thinner than the woman and his long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail.
Saeter was a somewhat skinny man but he made up for it by being tall. This man however was just of average height. His clothing looked to be of good quality but it had plainly seen better days and was now somewhat worn. His eyes however were intelligent and energetic.
The woman beside him who had yelled earlier ignored Saeter's rude reply to her and continued speaking as if he hadn't said anything.
“If I was gonna take something from the wagons and run off with it I wouldn't pick a frigging goblin, that's for sure. Only you could ever be that weird. In this entire pack of violent outcasts you are the weirdest by far Saeter, and Aerac makes little dolls out of radishes. That's the kind of people you're competing against,” she continued without pause as she approached.
“I'm the band's best tracker and hunter. I'm busy here doing my job and it's not to load wagons,” he replied calmly.
Vorscha snorted in response but her eyes were shinning. She didn’t seem to be angry.
“Arrogant prick aren't you. We'll you're by far the most experienced tracker around anyway. How is playing around with a bloody goblin have anything to do with anything though? You should just get rid of it. We have enough problems with goblins stealing stuff without actually inviting them into camp,” she told Saeter.
Blacknail's opinion of the woman dropped as she spoke. He never stole anything from anybody! People just left stuff lying around everywhere for some reason. How was he supposed to know it was theirs?
“In about an hour I've got this little fellow to do more work and show more smarts than most the people around here. Once I get him properly trained up he's going to be a valuable tool. Unlike that skinny boy toy you've got following you around,” Saeter replied as he threw a disdainful look at Vorscha and the man behind her.
Vorscha just laughed in response but the man behind her scowled at Saeter. Blacknail smiled in pride at his master's compliment. He was useful!
“Oh, Geralhd isn't so bad Saeter. He's just a helpless city boy and new to the glamorous outlaw lifestyle. We were all stupid little shits once. I'll have him broken in soon enough,” she said with a laugh.
Geralhd winced. He was clearly embarrassed but he decided to speak up anyway.
“Thank you Vorscha, but I am more than capable of speaking for myself. I may not have been born out in the woods with a sword in my hand, Saeter, but I plan on surviving so I'm learning to do what I must,” Geralhd interjected earnestly as Saeter eyed him and grunted doubtfully in response.
“Why do you keep taking fools like this under your wing, Vorscha? He's gonna get himself killed one way or another, just like the last one,” Saeter asked her gravely.
Geralhd looked startled for a second before giving Saeter a dark glare. Vorscha however just shrugged her muscular shoulders before replying.
“Why are you still out here, Saeter? You've been roaming the North longer than most the men here have been alive. Anyone else would have retired long ago. This isn't a place or a profession for men who have seen as many winters as you have. You know better than anyone that sooner or later something is going to kill you out here. Hells, even the bounty on your head expired years ago,” Vorscha asked him in return.
Saeter didn't answer right away. Instead he sighed and turned away from them and looked out into the green expanse of forest off to his side for a second. Then his gaze swept back over the camp behind himself. Blacknail didn't know exactly what he was looking at but he seemed to be deep in thought.
“There ain't no fool like an old fool,” Saeter finally responded with a tired sigh. Vorscha nodded and sighed as well.
“It's just who we are,” she commented solemnly. Geralhd looked a little taken aback by the unexpected serious turn in the conversation.
Blacknail was having a lot of problems trying to understand what the humans were saying. They were using a lot of words and concepts he didn't know. They suddenly seemed kind of sad though. It made him uncomfortable for some reason.
“Well, let's see this goblin of yours, then,” Vorscha said with sudden cheer in an obvious attempt to lighten the conversation.
She moved to stand over Blacknail. The goblin smiled up at her. He tried to look harmless and to absolutely not think about picking things up that didn't belong to him. Geralhd moved up beside her hesitantly to look over the goblin as well.
“Doesn't seem like much to me. Looks pretty much the same as every other goblin around these parts,” Vorscha commented casually.
Blacknail felt deeply insulted, which was weird because he had no idea what goblins around here were like at all. They could be purple and twice the size of humans for all he knew, but if they went around stealing things they were nothing like him.
“It's a little bigger and darker in colour, though; murkier. A lot of goblins here have some hair on their heads and this one doesn't. Huh, I've never been this close to live goblin before,” Geralhd observed with interest.
Blacknail found the man's intense scrutiny uncomfortable. He also thought he sensed fear from the thin man. That made no sense to the goblin. He was the one at the mercy of a group of gigantic killers! Humans were weird.
“You can move closer. He's not gonna bite you Geralhd. Are you Blacknail?” Saeter asked Blacknail snidely.
“No, master; I never bite humans, never,” Blacknail replied vigorously with a look of affronted horror on his face. Goblins who bit or hit humans didn't last very long in the sewers.
“By the gods, it talks. That's unnatural,” Vorscha exclaimed and took a surprised step back. This time it was Geralhd that chuckled.
“All goblins can talk. Most just don't speak Elorian. They have their own primitive languages. Goblins can develop fairly sophisticated societies after all. Or at least they did before the ancient Goblin Wars. I've never heard of a goblin that could speak Elorian this well though. How interesting,” Geralhd mused aloud.
Saeter rolled his eyes in annoyance at the other man's tone.
“Hey pretty boy. Don't you know you're always supposed to agree with me. You're just lucky you're cute or you never would have lasted this long out here,” Vorscha said with fake outrage as she punched Geralhd lightly in the arm.
The smaller man blushed a little and turned away with a cough to hide it, which only made Vorscha laugh.
“If you two are done inspecting my goblin, why don't you get back to work. I'm sure you have very important things to do, I know I do,” Saeter told them dismissively.
Vorscha met his rudeness with a smile, though. She seemed to be immune to Saeter's grumpiness.
“I'm one of the band's best fighters and thieves. I'm busy here doing my job and it's not to load wagons,” she replied snidely with laughing eyes.
Geralhd chuckled and Saeter gave them both an annoyed frown. The goblin had to stifle a smile of his own. The woman’s grin and mood were infectious.
“Very funny, but I'm actually training Blacknail here to help me hunt. You're just standing around being as useful as tits on a boar,” Saeter countered.
“Master is yes,” Blacknail added with a serious nod in order to back up Saeter.
Geralhd and Vorscha threw him amused looks.
“Well, if the young goblin here says it’s so then it must be true,” Geralhd commented sarcastically.
Blacknail didn't like his tone of voice. He suspected he was being made fun of.
“Anyway, sorry to disappoint you Saeter but Geralhd and I finished our jobs a while ago so relaxing here in camp is where we're supposed to be,” Vorscha explained.
“Then why don't you go tell Herad that I'll be out hunting for a bit. Tell her I'll bring back something for the victory celebration tonight,” Saeter told them sternly.
He clearly wasn't looking for any more conversation, which was fine with Blacknail. He didn't want to be around the offensive lady named Vorscha either. He was so not a thief.
“Ah, avoiding Herad are you? Good idea, she's still fuming. This was supposed to be an easy bloodless job but that thrice damned mage killed several of our guys before a lucky arrow took him out. Who knows what the hells he was even doing out here. Mages with the crystals like he had have better things to do than guard little caravans out to the frontier,” Vorscha wondered aloud.
“Who knows why mages do bloody anything? The guilds seem to spend more time being mysterious than they do doing anything useful,” Saeter replied with a disdainful sneer.
“You're wrong about that, Saeter. The illustrious mage guilds spend most their valuable time fighting and killing each other over secrets and politics. Every once and a while they also manage to actually get some research on magic crystals or elixirs done,” Geralhd jokingly added.
“Well, whatever he was doing here it certainly cost us some comrades,” Vorscha added soberly.
Blacknail begun to grow tired of standing around listening to the humans talk about things he didn't understand. He sat back down and absently scratched an itch on his neck.
“Just means more loot for us,” Saeter commented with ill-humour.
“Ha, you mean more loot for our fearsome leader Herad. I doubt any of us will see much in the way of extra coin,” Geralhd replied.
“Both of you should be more respectful to the fallen. Next time it could be one of us who dies with some caravan guard's blade through our guts,” Vorscha told them.
“Or be set aflame and burned alive by a combat mage like poor Guts. I can still smell bacon,” Geralhd said with a shudder.
“Poor Guts? The man was a wanted murderer, deserter, and a rapist,” Saeter remarked.
“Aren't we all? I assume that's why we're all out here in the freezing north, hiding in these accursed woods, and robbing passing travelers,” Geralhd countered.
“Some crimes are worse than others and your reasons for doing them matter. Even Herad had the women and children from the caravan released with a horse and wagon,” Saeter muttered darkly.
“Well, I don't know about you two but I'm not a rapist. Although I do have the occasional dark fantasy,” Vorscha joked cheerfully as she threw Geralhd a meaningful glance.
The thin man looked uncomfortable and had to turn away. He coughed lightly to cover himself and then tried to divert the conversation.
“Speaking of Herad, did you see her fight that elixir user? He came out of nowhere and almost pushed us back on the left flank. Herad had to go out and fight him herself. That was quite the show. I've seen Vessels duel before but this was quite different. It was brutal, bloody, and lightning fast. Almost makes me want to try and get my hands on some elixir,” he told them.
“Not me. I've seen what elixir does to people who take it and aren't lucky enough to become vessels. Also sometimes even proper vessels get addicted to the stuff. Neither of those is an easy way to die. Herad's welcome to it but I'm sticking to good old fashioned muscle power,” Vorscha told him as she flexed her arms.
“Also it's a little expensive and hard to get if you're an outlaw out on the frontier. The lords tend to discourage the guilds from selling to the likes of us,” Sater added sarcastically.
By this point Blacknail had completely lost interest in the conversation and was barely paying attention. He gave a quiet yawn and rested his head on his knees.
“Herad must have used up a fair bit of her elixir in that fight then,” Geralhd mused aloud. Saeter gave him a disproving look.
“Word of warning, boy. It's not a good idea to go around talking about how much elixir Herad has left. She might believe you're thinking of challenging her and she can be touchy about that,” Saeter warned him quietly.
Vorscha nodded to show her agreement and Geralhd looked chastened.
“Anyway, I need to be on my way. I can't waste all morning talking to you two,” Saeter abruptly announced.
He then turned away from them without saying another word and grabbed a bag from his camp before walking off towards the woods.
“Come on, Blacknail,” he called without turning around or even slowing.
Instantly the goblin got up from where he had been slowly drifting off to sleep in the grass and sauntered after his master, leaving the other two bandits standing alone by themselves.
Finally something to do other than sit around and listen to humans blab on and on about stupid things, Blacknail thought to himself as he walked.
“He's a miserable old bastard isn’t he,” Geralhd commented to Vorscha.
“You should see him around people he actually doesn't like. I'm practically his best friend around here,” Blacknail heard Vorscha respond cheerfully.
As Blacknail approached the woods he began to regret his earlier enthusiasm for doing something more exciting. The trees loomed before him as Saeter waited for him at their edge. He had really been hoping that now that he had reached the camp his master wouldn’t make him go out into the forest anymore.
Saeter gave the goblin an impatient look and took an angry step towards him. Blacknail swallowed nervously but scurried into the shadows of the trees. He didn’t want to make his master angry and get a beating.
As he moved through the bushes at the edge of the clearing, the goblin’s heart started pounding and he went slightly pale. Blacknail didn’t know what was out there waiting for him in the forest but every instinct he had was screaming that he was about to enter somewhere very dangerous.