Once upon a time, in a forest, a young maiden was walking to her house after visiting her parents in a neighboring village. As she walked along the trail a small goblin leaped from the underbrush to stand in front of her.
"Hello girly," the goblin said, his red eyes sparkling with trickery, the way all goblins eyes did. "Why are you walking in these woods? Surely you know that there are many foul beings living here that would love to eat you pretty one."
"I know this," the young woman answered calmly, unsurprised at this fact. "I live in these woods by myself; the creatures here have never bothered me before."
"Ahh, but what were to happen if one of these vile lovelies got the craving for human flesh?" the goblin pressed further, though to what ends his questioning led the young woman had no clue, but still she listened.
"I have three brothers," she replied, "My eldest brother works as a knight in the king's army; he has shown me how to fight with sword and dagger. The second eldest is a scholar, he has told me that many of these beings are slow and dumb, I have always been a fast learner and quick to think, I can easily outwit them. The youngest brother is an advisor for the royal family; he has taught me how to negotiate peace with others. By using these lessons I can protect myself in this forest."
The goblin thought this over for she had given him much to think about. He chewed each piece of information like it was a well-cooked steak, fully grasping the flavor of each chewy slice till he had identified every single spice used in its making.
"Very well then," he said finally, "I can see that you are well armed against any dangers that may be placed in your way, but, if I may ask humbly, is it possible that you may need a servant? Someone to help around your home and keep out unwanted pests?"
The woman thought it over in the same way the goblin had thought over what she had said about her brothers. The goblin's request had been a strange one but not totally uncommon, for many goblins had become caretakers in the homes of nobles.
"I accept your offer," she said slowly, "But I have rules that must be obeyed and things that I must know if you are to be my servant."
"Of course my lady," he bowed at the waist then straightened back to standing, "Whatever milady wishes shall be hers."
"Good, now, the first thing I wish to know is your name for I do not like calling out 'You' or 'Servant'," she informed him as she walked up to him.
"My name is Lykalis, Mistress," he bowed again.
"And don't call me Mistress, it makes me feel old. My name is Rayana, but if you insist on calling me in a manner that is appropriate for our relations to each other than just call me Ms. Rayana," the new employer told the goblin, "Also, you will be paid for your work, along with room and meals."
"Thank you Ms. Rayana, thank you very much," the little goblin said, and for a moment Rayana thought that she had heard true gratitude in his voice but when she looked closer at his face all she saw was a typical impish goblin grin.
"No need to give thanks, now let's move, we have wasted much time here talking and I wish to reach my house before noon," Rayana started past Lykalis, leading him through the forest to her home which she now shared with him.
The path was twisted and long. They broke branches and snapped twigs, which echoed in the still forest. Only the occasional bird song or fox yip told them that nothing was unusual, that all the animals were going about their business and not hiding from some threat. They did not speak a word, and Rayana was glad for it. She thought long and hard about this new member of her house and why in the world he would ask questions about her supposed weakness at the hands of the many beings that lurked in this wood. On and on she meditated, letting her feet walk this path as they had before, and soon she found herself at her own door step.
She turned to the goblin and said, "This is home now Lykalis, this is where you will stay until you wish to leave."
Lykalis smiled up at her, "And a lovely home it is Ms. Rayana."
Rayana took him through the house, showing him the kitchen and bathroom, the study and the door to her own room. Then they went outside where she showed him her garden, full of fresh produce that it made the air rich and earthy. After the tour was finished she asked him, to make them both some lunch while she changed her clothes and unpacked her small satchel.
"Of course Miss, it is my job to serve," he answered when she asked.
"I know, but it feels rude to order one to do it. I was raised in a family where everyone asked the others for help, not demanding it," she explained kindly.
Lykalis nodded and walked into the kitchen to prepare the meal. Rayana walked to her rooms and closed the door. A while later she emerged, dressed in a simple long tunic and breeches, comfortable and roomy. Following her nose she wondered into the kitchen blindly. Her eyes fell upon her table. Earlier it had been empty but now it held a bowl of stew. The chunks of meat floated in the cloudy broth next to carrot circles and potato lumps. It looked like a meal the nobles would feast on in their castles.
She looked around the room and spotted Lykalis next to her chair, waiting patiently for her to walk over and sit. Not wanting to seem foolish when her stomach finally decided to protest her fasting she walked briskly to her chair, letting the goblin hold it out for her, and sat down.
"Does the meal look satisfying to you Ms. Rayana?" he asked once she was comfortably seated.
"Yes Lykalis, it looks absolutely satisfying, thank you," she replied, scooping a large spoon full of tender meat and veggies. The thick broth itself could have been a meal all alone; its texture was soft, and full. It tasted of meats, cooked to perfection, and veggies, big and ripe. The addition of the slices of venison, carrots, and kernels of corn, potatoes and celery made it a feast worthy of a king.
After this first day, Rayana got used to having another hand in the house, and Lykalis continued to serve her faithfully. Rayana made sure that Lykalis was given pay for all his satisfactory work. He slept in a comfy bed and ate at her table with her. He had tried more than once to sneak money back into her purse, but she only sneaked it back. They lived together for many months, he kept true to his word; the house was clean, all of the meals were splendid and not one pest made it past the front door. He also told stories and practiced with her when she did the exercises that her brothers had taught her. She found out that he was very smart and almost a master at swordplay.
When she went to the village she had brought him along. People would sometimes stare but most went along their own business, unsurprised by the sight of a goblin next to the person he worked for. Her parents and brothers asked about him and she had only good things to say about Kalis (his personal nickname). Her family only nodded; goblins had a reputation of pulling pranks on cruel owners but their Rayana was a kind soul and treated any person, human or goblin, like an equal.
After almost 6 months after the original meeting, winter settled in. Snow covered every available surface up to a foot and a half. Rayana and Lykalis stayed at the house after the last visit to the town to sell Rayana's goods and get the supplies they would need for the long winter.
Life in the forest was quiet as the browns, reds, and yellows of fall gave way to the pure white of winter, until one day when they had wondered a bit too far into the wood. They had gone in search of Winter Berries, a popular pie filling during the winter, when they heard the sound of a giant's footsteps. The sound of crunching snow got closer to them and just beyond the world of white they could see a massive shape moving. It moved towards them and soon they could see the shape that had followed their cold, wet scent.
It was a Torcalic, the greatest of all giant, and the meanest. It stood as tall as ten men and reeked of rotten meat. It couldn't see very well but its nose was as powerful as a dog's, more even if it wanted to get past the scent of his own body, and his ear could detect the sound of a beating heart on a calm day. Most would wear the rags of their other victims but this one only had enough for pants, this meant that he was a young Torcalic, and extremely dangerous.
Kalis and Rayana stood still as the giant approached; their hearts were calm and beating softly. They hoped that if the giant couldn't hear them that he would just pass them by. The Torcalic had other ideas; once he had made it to 20 feet in front of them he slapped his club down to the ground. Kalis and Rayana jumped to either side of the club and Rayana pulled out her sword. She charged the monster's down arm and nicked the skin, causing him to roar in pain as black blood rolled off his arm and tainted the snow.
Rayana slashed at the giant a few more times, each time drawing his blood. As the giant backed up a bit to escape the pest that stung him, Rayana looked around to see where Kalis was. She couldn't find him in the short few seconds the Torcalic took to prepare for the next attack but she knew that he didn't abandon her. She trusted him and as she went back to face the giant she prayed that he had a really good plan, for all she was doing was making the giant angrier and determined to take care of the pest.
She ran to the giant, her sword ready to bite at his ankles, when she saw a black streak jump from one of the trees behind the giant to his shoulder, it was Kalis! He landed on the shoulder and plunged a short sword, something he carried with him after Rayana had given it to him to practice with, into the giant's thick neck.
The giant roared in pain, he grabbed at the small goblin on his shoulder and threw Kalis into the trees. Rayana screamed his name but dared not move until she was sure that the giant was taking his last breath. After the Torcalic threw Kalis, he scratched at his neck, stupidly driving the sword farther into his fat throat. Even without seeing what was happening Rayana knew that this act would kill him. The sword was most likely poking into his esophagus and he would drown from the blood that was pouring into his lungs.
After thrashing around madly the giant fell face first into the snow, blood dripping from his mouth; wide open in a silent scream. Rayana stared at the body for what seemed like an eternity until she dropped her sword, sure that she wouldn't need it now, and ran into the forest to find Kalis. She ran straight for the snow bank that had hidden his fall. Stumbling through the thick snow she reached the crest and searched the surrounding snow frantically. She saw a dull brown shape lying in the snow about 15 feet off. Sliding down the slope she fell next to the pile of clothes.
"Lykalis? Please, are you hurt?" She asked, tears pricking her eyes.
The pile moved and under the clothes was not a goblin, but a human man! The green yellow pebbly skin was replaced by smooth pink flesh, the once red glowing eyes now deep brown. He looked up at her and smiled, it was the same smile the goblin had.
"Hey Rayana, is he dead?" he asked, like he was just woke from a nap instead of being thrown through the air.
"Yeah, he's dead. But I don't understand, what happened to you? Why did you change forms?" she stared at him, confused but also glad that he was okay.
"I'm sorry for not telling you but, I am the son of a nobleman from the North. I was very foolish and cruel. One day a servant of my father, a goblin, asked me to follow him. I followed and he took me to a small house at the edge of my father's estates. He led me inside where I saw an old goblin woman sitting in front of the fire.
"I was told to sit across the fire and listen. I wanted to tell them that they couldn't order me around but my father had told me that if I act out of order even one more time that I would be punished for my crimes against my subjects. So I sat and listened, she told me that she was going to put a curse on me. I stood up to go to my father but before I knew it I was on the floor in pain. I shrank in form and it hurt my bones." He shivered as he said it, remembering the experience.
"When I stood up I walked over to the mirror and saw that I was indeed a goblin. I was in shock at first then in rage. I was about to yell at the woman when she told me that if I didn't learn to behave that I would stay as I was, my father was already told about what would happen and agreed that it was for the best.
"At first I wanted to yell and rant and order them to change me back, but I was a smart fellow. I thought that I could trick them into thinking that I had changed and then they would have to release me from this curse. So I did as they told me, inside I fought it as much as I could but soon I realized that I couldn't help but to change. I was taken to the homes of the sick and old. I took care of them and listened to their stories. And soon, I started to enjoy it." He looked up at Rayana who was still engrossed in his tale.
"Once they said that I had learned my lesson I was released to go out and break the curse myself. I was told that I had to do a great deed for someone while in their servitude. Protect my master basically. So I traveled for a while, searching for someone who would be in danger. I came to a village that also borders this forest, only to the North and not the East like yours. I had heard of the monsters that live here and I also heard rumors about you. So I set off in search of you, sure that you would need protection." Rayana rolled her eyes at this remark and Kalis just laughed.
"When I first met you I was a little put down. You were strong and brave, what could I do to protect a master who was already so courageous? But I decided to stay with you anyways; I was weary of traveling and wanted to stay in one place for a while. I really liked staying at your house, I was calm and comforting." His voice became sad, "Honestly I wish that we had never come to cross paths with the Torcalic. I didn't even remember that I was cursed before he threw me and I felt like I was stretching. I'm sorry if this shocked you, and I'm sorry for not telling you sooner." He bowed his head.
Rayana thought about what he said, about where he came from and his situation. She thought long and hard in the silence. She thought and thought till she noticed him shaking; the cold was seeping into the torn clothes. She stood up and offered her hand to him. He looked up at her and understood, he took it and stood, the only pain was in his cold joints. They walked home and Rayana started the fire while Lykalis changed in his room. Once the fire was going Rayana sat, and watched the flames, still thinking hard as Kalis entered the room and took the chair opposite hers, still silent.
"I suppose you will be needed back home soon, to tell your father and the goblins of your adventure." Rayana said to the flames.
"I will need to go soon. They will be worried about me after all this time." Kalis answered back.
"When will you leave?" sadness seeped into Rayana's voice as she thought about the loneliness that would come back after he left her. She had never really felt the loneliness before, but that was before she had a friend to share her home and life with. Kalis looked at her, he could only see one side of her face but the sadness was still there.
"Well, I can't walk in all this snow, so spring would be the best time to travel, and the journey is long, I would really dislike to go it by myself," his voice hopeful. Rayana looked up at him, at first slightly confused but then glowing with happiness. She wasn't going to lose her friend, and better yet, she could travel with him and learn about his life.
"I would be honored to join you, Sir Kalis," she replied, bowing in her seat.
"Please," he held up a hand, "Just call me Kalis, we are friends after all." His smile warmed Rayana's heart.
"So you will wait till spring to leave, what will you do till then?" Rayana asked.
"Well, would you like to learn about my family? I'm sure they would be quite upset if you were to meet them and know nothing about them, they would think that I had forgotten them," he chuckled.
"I would enjoy that," Rayana smiled at him, and for the rest of that night, and the short winter days after that, Rayana and Kalis talked about his life before and after his curse, eagerly awaiting the first signs of spring.