He dreamed of dark waters and pale worms with toothy maws swimming beneath him in strange patterns. It was far from the best dream he’d ever had.
The following morning he woke with a start but had only the faintest recollection of the visions that had disturbed his sleep. Blacknail was more than happy to let the memories slip from his mind as they once again got up and began walking.
The group of bandits reached their destination around noon that day. The goblin was more than a little disappointed when he saw it. It was just a clearing along the abandoned road they’d been traveling on. Why had they walked so far just to move from one empty spot to another? Humans were stupid!
The meadow was much larger than the one they had been camped in before and it contained a small derelict building. Those were the only real differences Blacknail could see.
It was a solid looking wooden building but it had clearly degraded over the years since it had been abandoned. The wooden door had fallen off and the thatch roof had long since rotted away. Blacknail stood off to the side of Saeter and listened in as he started talking to the other bandits.
“This used to be a farmhouse, and this overgrown meadow used to be farmland. When I was young homesteads like this dotted these lands. Now look at it,” Saeter mused sorrowfully.
“Times are tough everywhere, Saeter. All the bloody kings and nobles have been at their damned pointless wars for decades now. At least up here in the North there are no press gangs and taxmen,” one of the other scouts replied before spitting onto the ground.
Saeter snorted disdainfully in response.
“No, there are only monsters, mutants, the City Killer, and a thousand other ways to die out here. Let's also not forget about all the merciless bandits and deprived outlaws,” he countered with dark humor.
“Like I said, times are tough everywhere,” the other replied simply with a shrug. “Years of war will do that.”
“The North would have toughed it out if not for the thrice damned City Killer,” Saeter said with sudden heat that caused his face to flush with barely contained hatred.
Blacknail almost took a step back from him in alarm. His master never showed his anger like that! He was usually so in control. It scared the goblin more than a little. He could too easily imagine that wild rage being turned against him.
“Well, I wasn't there so I wouldn't know but I suspect you're wrong about that. Things would have been better here were Coroulis still standing but the rest of the world would have still dragged the North down with it,” the other bandit replied carefully as he watched Saeter out of the corner of his eye.
“We would have had a chance, though,” Saeter said as his anger gave way to resignation. “Ha, I really must be becoming an old man because I'm starting to rant and grumble just like one.”
The other man just grunted in response and they both stared at the ruins in front of them for a while. Blacknail joined them but he didn’t see anything interesting. Were they looking for something?
After a few minutes they had to stop and help the other scouts work. Their group had a lot of work to do to get the new camp site ready for everyone else’s arrival.
First, they had to fix up the building up and clear the land. The tall grass and plants that grew in the clearing had to be cut and set out to dry in order to make thatch for the building's roof and to clear an area for camping. They also went to work cutting down some of the nearby trees and stockpiling the wood and branches for both fuel and construction materials.
As they worked one of the scouts stumbled upon an old well by the house. So they added repairing that to the list of things they needed to do. Luckily, they had over a dozen good workers and one over enthusiastic goblin.
As they worked and waited for Herad and the wagons, Saeter sent scouts out to watch the road. He wanted to keep in contact with Herad and make sure no one could sneak up on them unaware.
Even once they had finished most of the original jobs Blacknail was still kept busy helping his master with his usual duties once again. He ran about helping with hunting in the morning and chores in the afternoon.
After several days of exploring the woods with Saeter the goblin began to feel more comfortable out there. Being under the forest canopy wasn’t so bad, as long as he stayed within three feet of his master at all times and didn’t go anywhere too dark. The spiders lived in the gloom.
He quickly picked up a lot of useful skills from doing so many chores every day. He was even rewarded with a small knife of his own. That was great because it showed that his master trusted him to be loyal, useful, and not to stab people.
The first thing the goblin learned was how to set fires. Saeter showed him how to arrange the wood and tinder and set it alight with steel and flint, or by rubbing two pieces of wood together.
A few impromptu fire starting practice sessions later Saeter snatched the flint and steel back. He then ordered the disappointed goblin not to practice anymore without permission. Blacknail didn’t know what the big deal was. It had only been a small section of grass that had caught fire and together all the scouts had managed to stamp it out easily enough.
Next he was put to work skinning rabbits again. When he ran out of carcasses to practice on Saeter took him out into the woods and showed him how to set the snares himself.
He did this by bending a sapling down and tying it to a piece of cord with a noose on the end. A twig was tied to the cord right before the noose, and was held on the ground by a stake or another sapling. When the rabbit hit the noose it tightened and the movement caused the twig to come loose and the sapling to snap up. The rabbit was then pulled into the air and ended up hanging from the sapling.
Blacknail learned exactly how the trap worked when he stepped on it and the noose snagged his foot. He was almost instantly sent sprawling as the trap yanked his feet out from under him. Luckily, he was too heavy to be pulled into the air so he just ended up falling on his ass. At least now he knew it worked.
The hardest part of snaring rabbits was finding a rabbit trail or hole to place the snare on. Saeter had to look for signs such as droppings, but Blacknail could simply smell rabbit trails and follow them.
“Rabbits can’t hide from me. Me too great!” Blacknail bragged smugly as he set up a trap.
“Good job, you’ve got the hang of this. Now you can empty and set the traps yourself each morning,” Saeter replied as he watched the goblin work.
Wow, he’d just been given a job all of his own! The goblin couldn’t believe his master trusted him to go out into the forest alone…
“It danger. Me die,” Blacknail replied in wide eyed shock.
There was no way he could go out into the forest by himself! He was just a tiny little goblin. There were harpies, wolves, spiders, and other more dangerous things out there. Blacknail was fairly sure the forest existed solely to give all the things that ate goblins a place to live.
“You know enough to keep yourself out of trouble, goblin,” Saeter replied sternly with a hardened look in his eyes that showed he wasn't asking, he was commanding.
Seeing that look Blacknail cringed, but he didn’t move from where he was standing. Saeter took a step towards the goblin and raised a hand as if to strike him. Blacknail eyes went wide in alarm. Yet after only a few steps Saeter stopped and scowled at the goblin.
“Herad isn’t going to believe you’re useful enough to keep around if you can’t even walk into the woods by yourself,” Saeter grimly explained to Blacknail.
The goblin groaned. Ugh, he had been trying to forget about the dark eyed glowering chieftain. He didn’t really have a choice so he gave his master a reluctant nod of acceptance. This appeased Saeter somewhat, and he began preparing Blacknail for his first solo excursion.
First, Saeter taught Blacknail how to use his knife against various other animals. The goblin was told to stab them in the eye or under their ribs into their heart or lungs. He was also told to watch out for teeth and claws. Blacknail didn't really need to be told that last part; he had already figured that out.
Saeter then taught him how to throw a rock faster and more accurately using a strip of cloth called a sling. This amazing invention deeply impressed the goblin. He’d always wanted to be able to throw rocks harder; it was the answer to almost every problem he’d ever faced!
Blacknail was also given a belt and some leather pouches to put things like ammo or food in. Thus armed and equipped Blacknail was ready to start making trips out into the woods alone. He was very proud of himself. Proud but overcome by terrified panic.
Under his master's watchful eye the goblin walked over to the edge of the woods and hesitantly took the first step through the bushes and into the forest.
He then cast a look back over his shoulder to see Saeter walking back to camp. Blacknail gulped and his eyes widened in fear. He was all alone! Any second now a hideous monster was going to show up and eat him.
For weeks he had either been right beside his master or surrounded by at least a dozen somewhat friendly humans. Now he was all alone out in the woods, or a few feet from the edge of it anyway.
The snap of a twig somewhere off in the distance broke his concentration and caused him to twitch in fear. Something was coming! He yelped and scrambled over to the large exposed roots of a nearby tree.
Quickly digging, the goblin widened the gap beneath some of the roots and dove down there to hide. From his vantage point at the entrance of his impromptu burrow the goblin warily eyed the green foliage and tree trunks around him.
Nothing moved or made any more noise. Blacknail waited there in his hiding spot for several minutes overcome by terror.
He wanted to dash back to the safety of the camp. The only thing stopping him was fear of what his master would do if he returned without the rabbits from the snares.
Several more minutes passed as the goblin tried to think of some way to escape from his current predicament. If he tried to get the rabbits he would most likely be torn apart and eaten, if he stayed here under the roots he would slowly starve to death, and if he returned to camp his master would punish him. He didn’t like any of those options.
Blacknail had never directly disobeyed his master and didn't know what Saeter would do if he did. It would probably be very bad but would it be worse than being eaten by harpies? He could always say the snares had been empty, Saeter might even believe it.
Having made up his mind and decided that cowardice and begging for mercy were his best options the goblin slowly rose out from under the roots. He scanned his surroundings for any threats but the bushes around him and the branches overhead seemed empty.
The clearing was also only a little more than a dozen feet away. Then he heard another crackling sound from somewhere behind him. Blacknail dashed frantically towards the clearing and safety. He didn't want to be eaten!
With an imaginary host of monsters chasing him the goblin burst from the shrubs into the clearing as fast as his little legs would carry him, and almost ran right into Saeter.
Much to Blacknail's surprise his master stood only a few feet away and was calmly watching the goblin. Blacknail froze, or at least he tried.
He was moving so fast that he tripped over his own feet and was sent cart-wheeling painfully across the ground. His head bounced painfully off a rock but luckily he didn’t get hurt anywhere important.
Saeter was still standing there silently as Blacknail tentatively got to his feet. The goblin brushed himself off and threw his master a nervous glance.
All thoughts of lying to his master were banished by a wave of shame and fear, plus Saeter had probably been standing there the entire time watching.
“There was noise!” Blacknail whined piteously as he gave his master a pleading look.
Saeter frowned at him and shook his head disdainfully. Blacknail cringed again. Why had he used such a stupid excuse, he could have come up with a much better one.
“Take all the time you want Blacknail but you won't be getting any food until you bring back the rabbits, and I wouldn't be going out there after dark if I were you,” Saeter told Blacknail calmly but harshly.
The goblin shivered at the very thought of being out in the forest at night. Everything was worse at night! Blacknail stood there for a few seconds and gathered his thoughts. Saeter just stood there and observed the goblin.
With a sigh of resignation Blacknail realized he had no choice but to go out and empty the snares, unless several rabbits suddenly decided to run up and let him choke them to death one at a time. That seemed unlikely though.
Trying to banish his fear Blacknail stood tall, turned around, and walked back over to the edge of the trees and out into the forest again.
This time he forced himself forward more successfully. When he next heard a noise he merely threw himself violently to the ground and froze there for a few frantic heart beats instead of running back. He was making progress!
When nothing happened he rose to his feet and continued on. Every time he heard a noise he twitched in panic but didn’t run.
Blacknail crept slowly forward towards the snares by moving slowly from hiding spot to hiding spot. He concealed himself up against tree trunks, under fallen logs, in thick bushes, and behind tall grass.
Eventually, he made his way to the snares and got the rabbits. Then after looking around to make sure nothing dangerous was about to eat him he threw caution to the wind and dashed back to Saeter as fast as he could.
When he returned the sun had moved a fair distance in the sky, but Saeter made no comment. He simply took the rabbits from the goblin and set him to work on another chore. However, much to Blacknail's surprise he was fed an extra large meal that night.
He was also forced out into the bush the next morning, and every day after that as well. Obviously, Blacknail’s master didn’t really understand how rewards were supposed to work.
Soon, the goblin got used to being out in the forest alone, even if he really didn't like it.
Then one day it occurred to Blacknail only he knew how many rabbits he actually caught every day. The goblin tried to fight the temptation, briefly, but he secretly began to eat the occasional rabbit himself out in the bush. He just couldn't help himself!
Saeter never let him eat the rabbits raw, and Blacknail loved them that way. They were so juicy and warm, even if the fur was icky and sometimes got caught in his throat.
Why did humans feel the need to burn everything? Anyway, it's not like he was doing anyone any harm, he caught so many rabbits that Saeter was giving them away!
Of course, he wasn't always doing chores. Every night Saeter would throw some of the rabbits into a pot of boiling water. Then he added a bunch of plants to create something called stew.
The other bandits who were out scouting or doing other work during the day would then come over and they would all feast. The stew was an all right mix of tastes but Blacknail loved it because it was the only meal he was allowed to eat as much as he wanted.
His master usually only gave him small meals so he was almost always hungry. He had to forage for the rest when he had time, and Saeter kept him constantly busy.
The other humans that joined them for supper tended to be the quiet sort, like Blacknail's master. That was probably they were all men who spent a lot of time in the forest where making too much noise was dangerous.
None of them talked to him nearly as much as Vorscha or Geralhd but they weren’t hostile either. They mostly ignored him although one or two would throw him scraps when Saeter wasn't looking, mostly to annoy his master.
None the less, it was the first time Blacknail felt he really belonged with a group of humans and not just his master Saeter.
After he begun bringing back more rabbits then they could reasonably use Saeter had him start digging smoking pits. First he dug a hole up to his waist, a little bit more than 2 feet deep. Saeter had wanted him to use a shovel but he found it faster to just use his hands. He was a great digger!
A fire was then lit at the bottom of the pit and allowed to burn down to coals, than it was fed green hardwood to produce smoke. A grill of small crisscrossing branches was placed three fourths of the way up. Meat was then cut into small thin strips and placed on the grill. Finally, the pit was covered with branches and leaves to keep the smoke in. When the meat became brittle and dry it was done.
Apparently, this made the meat last longer and easier to carry around with you, but Blacknail mostly just liked the meat’s smoky taste. It also gave him a chance to set fires; he liked fire.
Of course, all these activities required constant use of his knife so Saeter had to show him how to sharpen it using a whetstone and care for it using oil. It also resulted in a lot of bloody rabbit pelts lying around everywhere so next Saeter showed him how to tan them.
To tan an animal skin it was scraped to remove the flesh, washed thoroughly in water, and then stretched out to dry for several days. To Blacknail's delight next he was told to break open the rabbit's skull, boil the brains in a bucket of water, and then smear the resulting gunk onto the hide by hand. It was so much fun! Saeter had to smack him several times to stop him from licking his fingers while he worked but he still enjoyed himself.
The hide was then left overnight where it wouldn't dry out. Next, the pelt was repetitively stretched and softened until dry, which was fun for the first while anyway but got old fast. Finally, it was placed over a smoky fire for several hours to dry.
Saeter gave several of the finished pelts to Blacknail, since he had no real use for them. The goblin had used them to make pants! Pants were apparently very important, and they certainly made sitting down more comfortable. No more accidently sitting on pine cones for him!
He’d also managed to stitch together a mismatched rabbit skin cape. Saeter had been the one to teach him how.
Saeter wasn’t happy with Blacknail having only one pair of shorts; he made the goblin make a second one. The goblin was supposed to wear one and wash the other. How stupid was that?
Stinky clothes just made it harder for animals to smell you! Saeter of course disagreed and made him change into clean, or at least sort of cleanish clothes every few days.
“Well, I’ve certainly turned you into a productive little helper,” Saeter told Blacknail proudly one afternoon after the goblin had finished his chores.
Blacknail smiled and nodded cheerfully in response to the praise. He was happy to be useful but he thought maybe he deserved more of the credit for his own work.
“You’ll sure startle everyone,” Saeter mused as he smiled wickedly in anticipation.
As they waited for the wagons to catch up Blacknail was kept very busy. He was perhaps a little too useful for his own good. It got to the point where every time Blacknail saw a rabbit in a snare the first thing that came to mind was how much work preparing it was going to be.
So of course, he started eating more of them raw and throwing away the remains. He thought it was the perfect plan, but Saeter wasn’t fooled. After a painful whack on his behind the goblin’s meals were reduced for a few days as punishment. In hindsight, he really should have spent a little more time wiping all the blood from his mouth before making his way back to camp.