When he turned the last corner and Saeter’s form came into view, Blacknail let out a deep relaxing breath. He was relieved that his master hadn’t managed to get himself into trouble while he’d been gone. He'd sort of been expecting his master to have picked a fight with a troll or something. He had no idea how or why a troll would show up in the middle of the city, but if one did he was sure Saeter would run into it.
“I’m back,” Blacknail called out as he rejoined the rangers. He didn’t want to startle them and get shot in the chest by an arrow.
“Did you find anyone?” his master asked with obvious interest.
“Yep, I found-ss two stupid humans…” the hobgoblin started to reply.
However, he was unexpectedly cut off by the shrill sound of a distant whistle. The first blast of noise was soon followed by several more, and they formed a pattern Blacknail recognized. It was the signal that enemies were coming down the road. Even the humans beside him, with their tiny useless pink ears, apparently heard it, because they turned to look in that direction.
“Time to go. Quickly, get back to the road!” Saeter commanded everyone, as he broke out into a jog.
Together the group of rangers dashed back towards the main street that led to Herad’s compound, and the lookout there that had just signaled them. As they ran Blacknail risked a quick look around.
The sun had now reached the apex of the sky. It was still cloudy overhead so it wasn’t all that bright out, but there was enough light to strip most the shadows from the tight corridors that Saeter’s group were running through. The sunlight had also finally started to dry the wet ground, and the puddles were evaporating.
Saeter’s group soon arrived near the warehouse where they had stationed the sentry earlier, and they came to a cautious stop. One of the scouts peeked out at the street from around a corner, but the roadway seemed clear. Carefully, he led the others to the entrance of the building. Blacknail listened carefully for signs of an ambush as well.
He didn’t hear anything at first, until they got close to the doorway, and then he heard a slight shuffling noise. There was at least one person concealed on the other side of it. He was just about to hiss a warning, when he got a good whiff of their scent.
The hobgoblin relaxed when he didn’t smell anyone around who wasn’t a member of Herad’s band. Sure enough, a second later a familiar face stepped out of the doorway and greeted them. It was one of the rangers Saeter had sent out earlier.
“Good, you're back. We need to get out of here. Zelena’s men are moving in force now. There’s easily a hundred of the scum coming down the road. The misbegotten bastards will be here in just a minute or two,” he told them.
“Any word from Herad about how the preparations are going?” Saeter asked him gruffly.
“No, and I don’t care. We’re not here to buy her time, if she even needs it. We were just told to stop anyone trying to get a look at our defenses until the main attack comes, and it’s bloody well here now,” the other man replied impatiently.
Saeter grunted in vague agreement before replying.
“Fine then, let’s get going. Tell the sentry to get his ass down here so we can leave,” he growled.
The other rangers soon arrived and the entire group quickly retreated down the road towards the base. The group of about a dozen rangers and the hobgoblin dashed towards safety.
As they ran, Blacknail could hear noise from behind them, and it made him more than a little anxious. It definitely sounded like people were chasing them, and he didn’t like being the hunted one. He threw a nervous look over his shoulder, but the road behind them was still empty. The clutter of hoofs on stone and the thud of boots were very clear in his ears, though.
He could also hear quite a bit of activity from up ahead, and he really hoped it was the rest of his tribe. It would be awkward if it was a trap, because then he’d have to make a break for safety and leave everyone else behind. The reason for all the noise soon became obvious however, and it wasn’t a trap.
The wide cobblestone road that led to Herad’s base was full bandits, and a tall wooden barricade now stretched all the way from the building on one side to the building on the other. It was a little taller than a human man, and had been hastily constructed out of mismatched wooden panels.
Herad herself was out front overseeing the work as her minions finished assembling the wall. Her idea of supervision seemed to involve an awful lot of screaming and insults.
“Move faster you lazy vermin! If you don’t start moving your fat asses faster then you won’t have to worry about the enemy, because I’ll kill you fucks myself!” she yelled savagely at the workers.
The bandit chieftain then noticed Saeter’s group returning and turned towards them.
“I take it that your arrival means that Zelena’s finally attacking?” she asked Saeter as they walked up to her.
“A large force of what certainly looks like Zelena’s men is coming down the road right behind us. There’s no sign of the mercenaries yet, though. How are things going here?” Saeter replied.
“Well enough, the barricade isn’t pretty, but it should do the job. The demolition crews have also finished collapsing buildings across the other ways in,” Herad answered.
“We sure are making a mess,” one of the other scouts murmured to himself.
Before Saeter could respond to Herad, her expression hardened and her hand dropped towards her sword. Thankfully she was no longer looking at Saeter though, but gazing past him instead. Both Blacknail and his master hurriedly turned to see what she was gazing at. It was probably important.
The hobgoblin growled softly as he took in the figure of a lone horseman on the empty road behind them. The rider had come to a stop well out of bowshot, and he was too far away for the hobgoblin to see details, but he seemed to be scrutinizing Herad’s barricade.
“The first enemy has arrived. Looks like you two got here just in time for the big fight,” Herad remarked.
“Oh, joy-ss,” Blacknail hissed sarcastically. He had seen human battles before, and being stuck in the middle of one was among the last places he wanted to be.
The bandit chieftain then whistled sharply to get everyone’s attention. Blacknail winced as the noise painfully pierced his skull. Ugh, he hated it when people whistled.
“Alright everyone, get to the other side of the wall. The pathetic fools we’re about to slaughter have arrived!” Herad yelled loudly enough for all her nearby minions to hear.
There was no gate in the barricade, so Saeter’s group followed Herad into a nearby building. The door was shut and locked behind them, and then a large bookcase was jammed up behind it for good measure.
With that done they stepped out of another door and into the area behind the barricade, where they would supposedly be safe. The hobgoblin was glad they had a wall, but he thought it would probably be safer to be somewhere that wasn’t about to be attacked.
A slight smile appeared on Herad’s face as she surveyed the scene before her. Her men were rushing around to put the finishing touches on the wooden barricade that loomed before them.
Blacknail thought this was a good time to give her his gift, because it looked like things were going to get very busy soon and he didn’t want to forget. He found that when people tried to kill him it was usually very distracting.
“Oh great-ss mistress, I have a present for you!” he announced loudly to catch her attention.
Herad turned around and scowled at the hobgoblin. He gave her a hopeful grin in return.
“You’d better not be about to lay some dead rat you caught on the way back here at my feet,” she remarked coldly.
“He’s a hobgoblin not a cat,” Saeter interjected dryly.
Herad just huffed impatiently for Blacknail to get to it. The hobgoblin hurriedly pulled the scroll case out from where he’d tucked it into his belt and held it out in front of himself where she could see it.
“I don’t think you’ve started writing or even reading, so what in all the hells is that?” she asked curiously as she reached out and took it from him.
“Maybe it’s hobgoblin poetry,” one of the scouts whispered to the man beside him, which caused him to snicker quietly. Blacknail ignored them.
“The vile and smelly-ss traitor gave it to the stupid human-ss assassin I killed. So I offer-ss it to you as proof of my kills,” he told Herad excitedly.
“What traitor?” Herad asked with sudden anger as her eyes narrowed dangerously.
Her expression didn’t get any better when she opened the scroll case and started reading. In fact, it got much worse.
“Umm, you know… the man. The um… pink one with the tiny ears and nose,” Blacknail stuttered in reply.
Herad looked up from her reading and scowled at him again. Blacknail cringed under her scrutiny. Why was she angry at him? Maybe he should learn people’s names after all. Why did all humans have to look so similar?
“He’s the one who smelled kind-ss of rusty all the time-ss,” the hobgoblin added hopefully.
He was disappointed; Herad’s scowl grew deeper, but thankfully she turned away from him and towards his master. Surely he hadn’t been the only one to notice that smell? Humans sure had bad senses of smell.
“Saeter, I don’t suppose you happened to see the bastard Blacknail is talking about?” Herad asked.
“Um no, sorry,” Saeter replied carefully.
Herad groaned in uncharacteristic frustration, and eyed Blacknail irritably again. The hobgoblin gave her a nervous smile back.
“Fine, whatever. Don’t worry about his bloody name, then. Tell me exactly how you got this scroll!” she commanded the hobgoblin.
Blacknail immediately launched into a rambling explanation on how he’d tracked the super dangerous eight foot tall assassin through the streets and then killed both him and the traitor in an extended knife fight. There may have been a vicious pack of dogs, or harpies, as well.
He left out the little unimportant details though, like the pouch of gold.
“Well, it seems like you handled the situation right,” Herad told the hobgoblin. “I can figure out who in all the hells the traitor was after I deal with the small army that is about to attack us. Now get back to work. I want you both to join the defensive line, but don’t forget to keep an eye out for anyone trying to sneak around it.”
“Yes, oh great-ss mistress,” Blacknail replied respectfully.
He thought it was a good idea to make sure that he was back on her good side. Herad wasn’t impressed, though.
“Shut your flapping trap and move. I’m busy,” She growled back as she turned away dismissively.
“You heard the boss; let’s get going,” Saeter told the hobgoblin.
The pair then hurried away from the irate bandit chieftain and went to find a good position. Blacknail started to head directly for the barricade, but Saeter stopped him and pointed out a nearby roof with easy access by an exterior stairway.
It was just off to one side of the barricade, was within easy bow shot of it, and had a clear view of the street. The building was also tall enough that anyone below would have trouble scaling it to get at them, so they made their way over to it.
By the time they reached the rooftop balcony the horseman had disappeared. The road in front of Herad’s barricade was now empty.
“Maybe he got-ss scared and went home. I’m very scary; people-ss run from me all the time,” Blacknail remarked hopefully.
“Not likely,” his master chuckled in reply.
Saeter and the hobgoblin weren’t the only ones getting into position; dozens of Herad’s bandits were also nearby and getting ready. The barricade was too thin to at the top to stand on but platforms had been set up behind it for people to climb up.
Most of the platforms were just stacks of crates or barrels that had been piled up behind the wooden wall. There were also one or two carts that had been dragged over. The makeshift footing looked effective though; the bandits standing on it could easily hit anyone that tried to get over the wall in front of them.
Men armed with a variety of weapons, including spears and bows, were positioned all along the barricade to defend it. As Blacknail looked down the last few men got into position and the sounds of activity died down. A sudden stillness then fell over the area, as everyone waited for the enemy to show themselves. There was nothing more to do but wait.
They didn’t have to wait all that long. Within minutes there was a clatter of hoofs as several new riders appeared at the end of the road.
One of them held a long banner. There wasn’t quite enough wind for it to unfurl, so Blacknail couldn’t make out the symbol on it, but it still looked more than a little impressive.
As all of Herad’s minions watched, the horsemen talked among themselves and observed the barricade that was blocking their way. They didn’t seem very impressed by it.
A deep keening noise suddenly rippled though the air as one of the riders raised a horn to his lips. The eerie wail washed over Blacknail and caused the hairs on his skin to rise. When the noise died down Blacknail didn’t feel any better, because it was quickly replaced by the sound of pounding footsteps, and quite a lot of them.
As Blacknail watched the horsemen cantered off to the side of the road, and a rough looking mob of men came down the street past them.
Blacknail gulped nervously as he gave up trying to count them. There must have been hundreds of them! Certainly, there were more of them than he had fingers and toes, anyway.
“They look like normal Daggerpoint riffraff. Zelena must be holding her real soldiers in reserve,” Saeter remarked matter of factly.
Blacknail eyed his master skeptically. There were even more enemies than he could see? They already outnumbered Herad’s band!
“They look more than scary enough to me. Let’s find somewhere safer to be, like the forest!” Blacknail whined.
“Bah, stop being a coward. Fighting isn’t all about numbers,” Saeter replied scornfully.
As the wave of armed and angry looking humans descended upon the barricade Blacknail got a better look at them. They did seem to be nothing special. Most of them wouldn’t have stood out if Blacknail had seen them walking down the street. Of course, this was Daggerpoint so that just meant they weren’t armed with anything larger than a short sword or a large club.
By contrast Herad’s men were better armed and shinier. Almost all of them had helmets, and many of them had weapons larger than just short swords. A few of them even had chainmail shirts and shields. None of the attackers had that sort of equipment. There were still a bloody lot of them though.
Blacknail was brought back to reality by the sound of Saeter pulling his bow string back. He looked over just in time to see his master release an arrow at the approaching enemies, and a loud twang sound echoed past him as the bowstring vibrated.
The projectile sailed over the heads of the first few advancing attackers, and then slammed into the throat of an unlucky man several ranks back. Instantly, the man collapsed and then disappeared as he was trampled underfoot by the rest of the mob.
A victorious roar went up from the rest of Blacknail’s tribesmen as they celebrated the kill. It was quickly matched by a chorus of bloodthirsty cries from the wave of heavily armed thugs that were bearing down on the wall. Now that they were within bowshot the mob picked up speed as one by one they started breaking out into full out sprints.
The attackers looked eager to strike back and spill some blood of their own. Blacknail was going to have to do his best to disappoint them. He clenched his fists nervously as the violent maelstrom of noise from the young battlefield below washed over him.
The first shot had been fired. The first death had been dealt. The battle that would decide the fate of Herad’s Band and all of Daggerpoint had begun.
Blacknail’s stomach grumbled; he wished he’d brought more snacks. Maybe he could loot something…