“Arrrgh. Die!” the hobgoblin snarled in rage as he stared at his target with beady hate filled eyes.
With vicious intent he swung the axe in his hands down with all his might. The muscles in his back burned as he guided the sharp edge towards his defenceless target. The blade bit into the soft flesh of the log and cleaved right through it. Two equal sized pieces of wood flopped down onto the ground with hollow thud, leaving the axe head imbedded in the stump beneath it.
“Meh, that time wasn’t too bad. You're still putting too much effort into your swings, though. Just let the axe fall and you don’t need to yell everytime,” the old human ranger named Saeter remarked casually from where he was seated several feet away.
Blacknail gave him an annoyed look as he tugged on the axe handle to free it.
“Screaming makes the axe hit-ss harder and faster” he pointed out.
“Maybe, but you’re scaring the neighbours,” the old scout replied.
Blacknail looked around. Their neighbours were all hardened outlaws and members of Herad the Black Snake’s bandit company. Most of them were used to the hobgoblin in their midst by now; a little yelling wasn’t going to alarm them much. It wasn’t like he was burning down the camp again.
“Why am I even doing this? It’s boring and making me hungry,” Blacknail whined.
The hobgoblin had to suppress the urge to snarl and spit as a sudden wave of anger rose within him. The rush of energy made his teeth ache. Living among humans required that he constantly fight his violent urges.
Yelling while chopping helped him suppress his rage, and it was one of the few ways to do it that wouldn’t annoy his chieftain nor require him to dig any graves. Digging was hard work and he preferred to avoid it.
“Chopping wood is great for your back and will help your swordcraft. Plus, it’s getting damned cold out at night so we need the wood,” Saeter remarked.
Blacknail felt like asking his master why he wasn’t chopping wood then, but he suspected he already knew the answer. Besides, his master was right; it was getting bloody cold out.
Over a week had passed since the attack on Herad’s camp by the knights that had come looking for the ghouls Herad had wiped out. The days had been steadily getting shorter as Autumn grew older. The smothering white of winter would soon descend upon the North.
Blacknail wasn’t really used to staying above ground when darkness descended so the cold bothered him. He used to live in the sewer under a city to the South, before he’d been imprisoned and placed in a merchant caravan. Saeter had been the one who had freed him when Herad’s band had attacked the merchants.
There hadn’t been a lot of perks involved in living in a mucky cramped sewer but it had stayed warm in the winter. Of course, he’d only been a little goblin back then and not a magnificent hobgoblin.
Blacknail set a new piece of wood on top of the log and raised the axe above his head. With a grunt of effort he brought it down again and continued his work.
Chopping firewood was annoying but it did supply his with a steady stream of stuff to burn. Blacknail loved feeding fire until it grew huge and roared wildly.
The dancing red and orange flames were so pretty. They made him feel like laughing and clapping his hands together.
“Do we have enough twine?” Saeter asked the hobgoblin as he idly whittled away at a wooden figurine.
“We have-ss enough for all the snares and to tie up the wood-ss,” Blacknail replied dryly.
His master was clearly just looking for something to make him do. They always needed more rope and twine but creating it was a chore. It had to be carefully twisted from specially prepared plant fibres. Ugh, it was annoying even to think about!
“Then I guess you can take a break now and grab something to eat,” the old scout told Blacknail.
The hobgoblin smiled and set the axe down. Alright, he was super hungry! What did he want to eat?
There was plenty of dried meat and leftovers around but he felt like gorging himself on something fresher. Blacknail stared past the nearby tents and log buildings towards the forest beyond them. Yes, he was definitely going to go out and get his own food. It was time to go hunting.
As Saeter kept whittling away beside his tent, Blacknail stalked off towards the woods. He pulled up his hood and slipped through the bandit camp. No one gave him a second glance as he made his way to the edge of the trees.
Unseen, Blacknail stepped through the thick bushes at the edge of the clearing and disappeared into the shadowy forest beyond. The sun was high in the sky but its light was blocked by a smothering maze of branches and leaves.
The hobgoblin took a second to look around. Even this close to the human camp there could be dangerous creatures lurking around. Nothing moved in the green canopy overhead or on the forest floor. The only sounds were of birds singing and the faint rustling of leaves by the wind.
Satisfied that he was alone, Blacknail sniffed the air and began to circle carefully around the camp. He crept slowly through the underbrush and tried to camaflouge in with his surroundings.
The prey he was looking for kept to a certain schedule that made them predictable. He knew almost exactly where to find his midday meal.
Sure enough, after a few minutes of sneaking through the bushes he detected the telltale shuffling sounds of movement ahead. The cloaked hobgoblin dashed over to a thick brown tree trunk and pressed himself up against the bark. He then peeked out around it.
His prey was in plain sight a few dozen feet away, and Blacknail had arrived at exactly the right time. The hobgoblin smiled wickedly to himself and licked his lips hungrily.
The forest was incredibly dangerous and full of hungry beasts that would like nothing better than to devour humans and hobgoblins alike. Blacknail had run into more than a few of these while out with Saeter. There was also the possibility of another tribe of humans attacking the camp and sneaking through the woods. Thus, Herad had sentries posted around the perimeter of her base.
That was what lay before Blacknail, a human sentry, and he was eating his lunch. The delicious smell of roasted meat and gravy rose from the plate in front of the man. A torn of chunk of bread lay next to it. Blacknail sniffed the air again and the delectable aroma caused his stomach to gurgle in anticipation. Soon it would be his.
The sentry was leaning against a tree trunk while he took a bite out of the bread. He held the plate in front of him as he lazily surveyed the forest out of the corner of his eye. The man was obviously more concerned with eating than watching, and thus deserved what was coming to him.
“Mmm, I love bread with herbs in it. I need to get some more of this,” the sentry mused to himself as he chewed.
From behind the tree, the hobgoblin withdrew a good sized stone from one of his pouches. He squinted as he took in the surroundings and roughly measured the distance between the sentry and himself. Then, Blacknail whipped the rock off into a nearby clump of tall thickets.
There was loud rustling sound as it tore through the branches and a muted thud as the rock hit the ground and rolled. The sentry twitched and spun around towards the unexpected noise. His eyes were wide as he scanned the bushes for any signs of a threat.
He was also looking in the exact opposite direction of Blacknail. This was a fact the hobgoblin took full advantage of as he closed in.
The sentry was frowning in concern as he warily watched the bushes. Without looking down, the man carefully placed his plate of food on a nearby log. He then took several wary steps over toward the bushes. His hand was resting on the hilt of his sword.
“If there’s someone there come on out!” the sentry called.
Behind him, Blacknail silently prowled closer. The hungry hobgoblin put on a sudden burst of speed, hopped over a rotting log that was covered in moss, and then grabbed the plate. It was his!
“Huh, weird,” the sentry remarked to himself as he studied the bushes.
With his prize in hand, the hobgoblin turned and hurriedly scuttled behind a nearby tree and away. He clutched the meat covered plate to his chest as he ran. There was no stopping him now!
The sentry relaxed when nothing emerged from the bushes and attacked him. With a happy little sigh the man turned and started walking back to where he’d been eating. Suddenly, he let out a frustrated yell.
“No, what the hells! Where did my bloody food go? This is the second time! What keeps taking my damn lunch? Ack, I’m bloody hungry!” the shocked scout swore in disbelief.
Blacknail giggled to himself as he cheerfully hopped back through the forest and towards camp. He was the sneakiest and cleverest member of Herad’s band for sure!
Taking food from sentries was the perfect crime! No matter what happened they were supposed to stay on guard so they couldn’t give chase. They also couldn’t complain about losing their food to anyone, doing so would be admitting that they hadn’t been paying attention on watch.
It wasn’t an actual crime though, and nothing like thievery. Blacknail wasn’t a thief. He and the sentry been engaged in a contest of skill, with the food being a prize for the winner. That was nothing like stealing. Blacknail would have given the man something if he had been spotted, but he hadn’t been.
The hobgoblin took a seat atop a large stone on the edge of the woods. From there he could see into the camp but he was still mostly out of sight. The brown of his cloak and the green of his skin made him blend in with the forest. Swiftly, he began slurping down his meal.
When the last bit of food had vanished into his stomach he belched and started to plan his next move. He wasn’t quite full yet so he needed to get more grub. Luckily, he knew where to get some.
Blacknail got up and headed over to meet with Varhs. The man owed him a huge favor and had promised him tasty treats.
The young, at least next to Saeter, bandit scout had taken a goblin as a pet. The wretched little thing was named Scamp, and he was a stupid greedy little thief.
After a few minutes, Blacknail arrived in front of Varhs’ tent. The young scout was sitting in front of a firepit and frying up some eggs. They crackled and cooked on top of the pan he was holding above the flames.
Scamp was tied up beside him and curled up close to the fire. There was a content look on the goblin’s dreaming face. Blackanil didn’t like it.
“Ah, I thought you might stop by,” Varhs remarked as he looked up and saw the hobgoblin.
A while ago, the goblin had stolen some magic crystals and raised a huge ruckus. Blacknail had heroically tried to catch him but the little bastard had still managed to annoy Herad. As a result she had wanted to get rid Scamp.
Out of the goodness of his heart, and for the promise of a lot of treats from Varhs, Blacknail had agreed to become responsible for training the ugly runt of a goblin.
“I see Scamp still-ss hasn’t run away,” the hobgoblin observed.
The goblin in question woke up and yawned. He noticed the hobgoblin and a sulky expression appeared on his face. Blacknail didn’t like it.
“My little buddy wouldn’t do that. He’s a loyal companion and a great sniffer. He just needs some discipline,” Varhs remarked as he petted Scamp affectionately.
Saeter had almost never petted him when he had been a goblin! Blacknail would have to remember to give Scamp a good kicking later when Varhs wasn’t around. He was obviously spoiled rotten, and it would be for his own good.
“About-ss that training...” Blacknail slowly drawled.
“Yes, you can have some food. I have a spare egg here and some honeyed fruit tucked away,” Varhs told the hobgoblin with an obvious hint of amusement.
Blacknail frowned at the man’s words. Apparently, he had gotten predictable. That wasn’t good. Well, whatever. It couldn’t be helped if it was about tasty treats.
Several minutes later, the hobgoblin was once again walking through the camp with food in hand. He licked his lips as sucked on the last bit of sugary fruit in his mouth. It was delicious!
He was still kind of hungry, though. Should he go find Geralhd? That man was almost always easy to get food out of and he tended to have good stuff.
Blacknail decided against it. Saeter would be looking for him; they had practice soon. His master was teaching the hobgoblin how to shoot a bow, and it hadn’t been going all too well.
“There you are. What took you so long? Don’t make me wait for you,” Saeter huffed as Blacknail arrived back at the spot where their tents were set up next to each other.
“I’m coming,” the hobgoblin replied as he grabbed one of the bows that were laid out next to Saeter’s tent.
Now that lunch was over the camp was becoming busier. Herad’s minions were getting back to work. The sounds of wood being sawed and hammered filled the forest clearing.
It hadn’t been that long since the bandits had set up here on top the old abandoned farmhouse but a lot of work had been done. Most he bandits had moved out of their tents or lean-to and moved into log cabins.
Several more building were still being constructed in the clearing. Winter was coming and this was the North. Tents were fine for the other seasons but the snow and cold would be deadly in the winter.
If Herad wanted most of her minions alive come spring she had to make sure they were prepared. Food, firewood, and clothing all had to be stockpiled.
Log cabins and barracks weren’t the only thing being built either. Defenses also had to be constructed. Wooden watchtowers had been thrown up by the road near the entrance to the camp. Barricades were being built to stop not only attacking monsters from the forest but also people approaching from the road. Herad had plenty of human enemies.
Off to one side of the clearing there was an area that was still mostly empty. That was where Blacknail and his master headed. They had set up a series of targets there yesterday.
“Just take your time and stay focused,” Sater reminded Blacknail.
“No problem-ss, this is easy,” Blacknail replied cheerfully.
The hobgoblin was good at everything, so he obviously couldn’t be bad at archery. All those misses and injuries from last time were nothing but flukes.
“Just remember that you have to retrieve any arrows that go astray, so no more shooting at birds,” Saeter reminded him with a glare.
“They looked tasty...” Blacknail muttered to himself in frustration.
“You get more than enough to eat! I’m surprised you’re not completely round by now. Focus on learning to shoot, you big green idiot,” Saeter harshly replied with scowl.
With a sigh, the hobgoblin strung his bow and nocked an arrow to it. His master didn’t need to call him names, that was mean. Besides, he was still much thinner and prettier than a big fat pink human and that was unlikely to ever change.
The steel point in front of Blacknail’s eye pointed right towards the red circle that had been painted on the piece of board he was aiming at. With a confident smile, the hobgoblin let the arrow loose.
There was a muted thrum as the bowstring vibrated and the projectile whizzed through the air. The arrow raced towards the target, and then flew right past it without coming within five feet of it.
“I could hit-ss it easily with a rock from a sling...” Blacknail muttered in disappointment.
“Well, I don’t feel the need to stay here and watch this travesty. Just keep shooting until you get a feel for it, if you ever do,” Saeter told the hobgoblin.
The old human scout then shook his head and wandered off.
Blacknail took his time lining up his next shot. There was no point in rushing now that Saeter was gone. He would just tire himself out and it was still early in the day; he had other jobs to do later, like sword training with Vorscha. Life with Saeter was basically a never ending series of chores so you needed to know how to pace yourself.
The hobgoblin’s next arrow also flew off into the grass without going near the target. Blacknail eyed the bow in his hand skeptically. There had to be a trick to this. Maybe if he screamed threats really loudly while shooting or if he pretended the target was Scamp...