Once Upon a Time in Monster Woods

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


Some stories give you the strength you need when times are hard.

Submitted: June 03, 2018

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Submitted: June 03, 2018

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“Once upon a time—”, Bargle began.

“You muttonhead!” Yot yelled at him.“That’s not the way you start a story!”

“It is so!” Bargle yelled back.The blue, grubby goblin got up off the forest floor and grabbed a stick of firewood.He shook the stick at his fellow goblin and said, “There is a long tradition of pointlessly brutal fairytales starting with those words.”

Yot rolled his lavender eyes.The wrinkly goblin wore an oversized shirt and carried a walking stick, which he pointed at Bargle.“Which is why you don’t use it.Once upon a time was copyrighted years ago.Do you want to get sued?”

Bargle tossed the stick onto the fire and put both hands into his pockets.He pulled them out to reveal their contents, absolutely nothing.“What are they going to take?I haven’t even got good intentions.”

Pith the nearly clean goblin scowled at them.Pith was the closest this band of goblins had ever come to having a leader.Leading goblins starts at impossible and gets worse from there, making Pith’s life a near constant nightmare.He’d tried to run off many times, but the other goblins always chased him down and carried him back.

Pith pointed at a small boy with the goblins, a boy who looked to be on the verge of tears.“I distinctly recall asking for a way to cheer up Ted.Howling like harpies was not part of that request.So kindly take this argument and shove it up your, you know, place no one is ever going to ask to see, and get on with it.”

Bargle grumbled under his breath.He didn’t like story time one bit.It was long and boring, and you had to come up with a new story every time. But Ted needed stories as much as food and water, and it was Bargle’s turn to come up with the story.

The other 120 goblins in their crude gathering waited none too patiently for him to continue.They were camped deep in Monster Woods, a dense forest far safer than its name would imply, and were sitting down to dinner.Goblin cooks prepared the night’s slop while Pith cooked a more nourishing meal for Ted.Fires were lit, food was cooking, and a story was expected.

“Fine, but no more interruptions,” Bargle said.He settled down next to the fire and turned his attention to Ted.“This is the story of how Monster Woods got its name, and it’s a true story.Long, long ago, this used to be farmland. There were fields and orchards and moo cows.Humans raised animals and plants to eat.It was a hard life, but they managed, until one day a terrible monster showed up.”

“Where did it come from?” Yot asked.

Bargle shrugged.“It didn’t say.Monsters usually don’t.”

“What did it look like?” Yot pressed.

Struggling to maintain what little composure he had, Bargel said, “It was mostly mouth with legs stuck on as an afterthought.It had oodles of eyes and tough skin, and it ate a lot.I mean big, heaping piles of meat.The day it showed up it ate two cows, three sheep, ten chickens and a donkey named Merv.”

Pith finished cooking Ted’s supper and spoon fed the child. “There we go, eat it all up, just like the monster in the story.”

“You’re sure he’s paying attention?” Bargle asked.“I’m doing this for him, and there’s no sense in going on if he’s not listening.”

Another goblin poked Bargle with a stick.“Keep going.”

Bargle swatted the stick away.“Fine.The humans were ruled by a baron, a greedy sort who thought every inch of ground was his, and he made farmers and ranchers pay him taxes ever year, the jerk.But his people couldn’t pay taxes when the monster was eating everything that could be taxes, like cows and sheep and chickens and a donkey named Merv.So the baron said he’d pay a thousand gold coins to whoever killed the monster.”

“What, he wanted farmers to kill a monster?” Yot asked.

“No, he wanted bounty hunters and mercenaries and wizards and heroes to kill the monster.He didn’t want farmers to do it because he couldn’t tax them if they got killed.”

Ted pointed at the pot Pith was feeding him from.“More.”

“What is he eating?” Bargle asked.

“The last of the baked beans,” Pith replied.“We’ll need to scrounge up more food for him tomorrow.”

Yet another goblin poked Bargle with a stick.“Don’t stop the story.”

“The next guy who pokes me gets a black eye,” Bargle growled. “The baron got a surprise, because nobody came to kill the monster.Bounty hunters said the monster was too dangerous.Mercenaries said the pay was too low.Wizards ignored the offer because they’re jerks.And the monster ate four more cows, twenty sheep, a hundred chickens and a second donkey, whose name was also Merv.That was a popular name for donkeys back then.”

Bargle took a stick and lit one end in the fire.He held it up like a sword and announced, “But heroes aren’t scared or greedy or jerks, and one day a hero named Biff arrived.”

“What kind of a name for a hero is Biff?” Yot demanded.

“His mother named him that,” Bargle said.“Biff did the best he could with the name he had.Anyway, Biff told the baron he would kill the monster and save the people who were losing animals.He tracked the monster down and found it asleep after eating another donkey named Merv.”

A goblin in the audience raised a hand.“Merv might have been a family name.Were the donkey’s related?”

“I don’t care.”Bargle swung the burning stick left and right, up and down.“Biff fought the monster for hours, hacking and slashing and stabbing and jabbing.When he was done there were gooey bits everywhere, and the monster was dead.So Biff goes back to the baron for his money.”

Bargle tossed the stick into the fire.“The second he showed up, the baron tells him there’s a sword tax, which Biff hadn’t paid.And if Biff is claiming a bounty on the monster then he’s a bounty hunter, and there was a stiff fee for not having a bounty hunter license.And there was a tax for visiting the baron’s territory, charged by the day.After that was another tax and another one.By the time the baron was done, not only was Biff not getting paid but the poor slob was fifty gold coins in the red.The baron threw him in jail until his friends came up with the money.Poor Biff walked away, never to be seen in these parts again.”

“That’s a lousy story,” Yot told him.

“And not a good example for young children,” Pith added.Ted didn’t seem upset, just sleepy.

“I’m not done,” Bargle said.“The baron thought he was clever for getting rid of the monster without paying for it, but the monster had laid eggs before Biff killed it.One sunny day a whole gaggle of little monsters showed up and ate the last cow the farmers had.The baron put out a call for someone to kill the monsters, but no one came.Bounty hunters said if Biff was cheated out of his reward then they might be, too. Mercenaries said the pay was still too low.Wizards didn’t say anything because they were still jerks.That left the heroes, and they weren’t going to lift a finger after what happened to Biff.

“The little monsters ate and ate until they grew up to be big monsters. They chased off the baron and the farmers, and the forest spread out into the fields until it got to be as big as it is today.The monsters wandered off when there was nothing left to eat, but humans thought they’re still here, so that’s why they call it Monster Woods.The end.”

Pith frowned.“So the moral is to keep your word or it will come back to bite you.”

Bargle shrugged.“I was never good with morals.I guess the moral should be keep talking until Ted falls asleep, because the kid is out cold.”

Warm, fed and tired, Ted was indeed fast asleep.Pith placed a blanket over the small boy and gestured for the goblins to sleep.Goblins generally ignored his instructions, but it was late and they were tired, so they reluctantly went to sleep under the dense canopy of Monster Woods.

Only Bargle and Pith remained awake.The two stoked the fire and fed it when it threatened to burn out. Pith waved his hands at the woods and said, “No monsters here anymore, thank God.”

“Yeah, we’re lucky that way.It’s only us and the tentacled horror.How’s it going, big guy?”

A long, segmented red and black tentacle raised lazily up from the ground and waved at them before sinking back beneath the soil.Men or elves would find that frightening, but the goblins knew their neighbor well.Tentacled horrors were vegetarians, and at four tons this one was still a youngster.

Pith nodded at the tentacled horror.“He’s a good sort, and he owes me a small green frog when we were gambling.Tentacled horrors pay their debts.It’s what’s outside the woods that worries me.”

Goblins had always lived in Monster Woods, protected by the wood’s fierce reputation and the generally poor soil, and some of the goblins in this band had spent their whole lives here.Woodcutters dared not enter, and farmers didn’t bother clearing land that was both unfit for farming and ‘dangerous’.This protected them from men who might hunt goblins.Monster Woods was also far enough south and close enough to the coastline that summers were cool and winters seldom had snow.It was a goblin paradise, and lately one they had to stay in.

Bargle stirred the fire with a long stick before throwing it in. “The Crimson Hood bandits haven’t come into Monster Woods in two years.They won’t start now.After all, what have we got worth taking?”

“Ted.”

Both goblins glanced at the sleeping human boy.Goblins as a rule were as dumb as a stump.When Ted wandered into the woods a month ago and stumbled into the goblins, most of the band thought he was another goblin.It was an understandable mistake when the boy was small, dirty and only now learning to talk.Goblins long ago realized they were small and weak compared to most foes, so they banded together for self-preservation.When they’d found Ted, instincts took over and they’d added him to the band.Only smart goblins like Bargle, Yot and Pith understood he was human.

“Men love their children,” Pith continued.“If they see Ted, they won’t ask how he came to join us. They’ll attack to get him back.”

Bargle frowned.“Are bandits really men anymore?Men don’t kill other men most of the time, and almost never hurt women and kiddies. Crimson Hood bandits do it all the time. I’ve seen eight farmhouses attacked this year and four more the year before that.I think that’s what happened to Ted’s family or we wouldn’t have found him in the woods.”

“There’s an irony for you,” Pith said.“All the monsters live outside Monster Woods.”

“I’d heard the hero Julius Craton was coming to get rid of the Crimson Hood bandits,” Bargle said.“The tentacled horror said so, and he’s reliable.”

“One man against a whole pack of bandits?” Pith scoffed.

“He is a hero.You can’t put limits on those guys.”

* * * * *

The goblins woke late the following morning and moved on to the first order of business.In most goblin bands that meant setting traps to plaster unsuspecting people with mud, cow dung, spoiled cream cheese or other offensive substances.But Monster Woods’ reputation meant there was a shortage of victims for their traps.With no one to humiliate and nothing else to do, the goblins were forced to (gasp!) work. That meant find food for Ted.

One goblin offered up a rotten log.“Here you go.”

Yot knocked the log away.“We’ve been over this.You can eat that, he can't.”

“He never tried,” the goblin persisted.“Give the little guy a chance and he’ll surprise you.”

Pith led Ted as the goblins searched the woods.“You know the drill.Bird eggs, fresh fruit, stolen pies and meat are good.He won’t need much, but he needs it soon.”

The goblins hurried across the woods in search of food were a weird bunch, no two alike.Their skin tones ran the gambit and included pink, red, blue, tan, lavender, gray, and two goblins had stripes.Their clothes were rags and cast off human clothing they’d scavenged, plus a generous helping of animal skins, rope and bits of tent canvas.Their only defining features were how short they were, how smelly and how dumb.So mind blowing was their stupidity that it actually warped space and caused sawdust to rain down on their heads.Other races would find such warps raining down junk on their heads upsetting or worrisome, but to goblins it was just another day.

Goblins were rarely well armed, and these ones were worse off than most. They had little need for spears or daggers when no man entered their forest home, eliminating the main reason to have weapons.Goblins were also notoriously poor craftsmen and preferred to steal weapons from enemies. The lack of enemies or even passing travelers meant there was no one they could rob of their sword or axes. Lastly, the woods themselves offered little in the way of resources besides wood, stone and bone, all poor building materials for weapons.Bargle and his fellow goblins got by with crude clubs and rocks to throw, a fact they were perfectly happy with.

Trees were tall and dense in Monster Woods, leaving little space for food that small boys could eat.The goblins eventually went to the edge of the woods, where they found berry bushes and a rabbit.Cooking it took time and generated a lot of smoke.Goblins kept watch in case the Crimson Hood bandits saw the smoke and came to investigate.Thankfully the smoke went unnoticed.Ted was soon fed and as happy as he could be.

With that done, the goblins looked for victims for their pranks. No men, elves or dwarfs lived in the woods, and settlements were few and far between.The soil was poor except for a few spots claimed by farmers long ago. Even those were hard to come by since the Crimson Hood bandits began their depredations.

“We might have to go as far as Honeywild to pester someone,” Yot said as the goblins marched through the woods.

“That’s a lot of walking for some fun,” Bargle said.He’d visited the town of Honeywild years ago and left disappointed.It had too many walls, fences and dogs for his liking. 

“Yeah, but there are oodles of men packed in there,” Yot told him. “We’re talking prime victim territory.”

Pith picked up Ted and carried him.“Men in Honeywild carry spears since the Crimson Hood bandits showed up.It’s dangerous to get close to them.”

“Why do they have weapons when they haven’t been attacked yet?” Bargle asked.

“Because they could be,” Pith replied.

“Ooh, look over there,” Yot said eagerly.There was a farmhouse near the edge of Monster Woods.This was one of the few places with good enough soil to grow crops, and the nearby field was thick with wheat.“A farm this prosperous has to have people to annoy.”

Goblins were loud and obnoxious, but they could be quiet when they had to.The band fell silent and edged closer to the farm, creeping between the trees on their bellies.There just had to be an outhouse to trap or livestock to put on the house’s roof. Goblins grinned as they came nearer. They looked for signs of the owners or sounds to suggest they’d been spotted.They’d almost reached the house when Yot stopped and raised a hand.

“What is it?” Bargle whispered.

“No one’s here.”Yot got up and walked over to the house. He went inside and came out a few seconds later. His lip trembled, and he rested a hand on the doorframe.

“If no one is here then we can look for goodies,” Bargle said. He got up and headed for the house. Yot stopped him before he went inside.

“I was wrong.The farmer is still here.”

“Then why hasn’t he…oh.”Bargle’s face turned a shade paler.He put on the smile he used when he lied to strangers before turning to Ted. “Hey there, little fella.Do you want to play?Let’s go over in the field and play.You like playing, right?”

Ted smiled.“Play!”

Bargle took Ted far from the farm and kept the boy laughing and smiling while the other goblins went to work.They needed an hour to bury the farmer and recover what little was left in the house.When they were done, the goblins moved back into the protection of Monster Woods.

Bargle felt better once he was in Monster Woods again.The dark, foreboding woods had plenty of hiding places, and its thick canopy kept out flying monsters like wyverns, chimera and manticores.There were even good campsites scattered throughout the woods where foundations and stone chimneys from old farmhouses remained.The goblins found one of these welcome refuges and stopped to rest.

Noon came and Pith cooked another meal for Ted.More goblins gathered around to watch the boy and play with him.Bargle and Yot walked a short distance away and spoke in hushed tones.

“How bad was it?” Bargle asked.

Yot shuddered.“It was the Crimson Hood, no question.They left their mark on the guy’s door.They’d looted the place pretty good.We found some food they’d missed, so Ted has hot meals for the week.”

“There aren’t many farms left for them to hit.What happens when they run out of easy targets?”

“I guess they’ll go after Honeywild,” Yot said.“Honeywild has good protection with a wall around the town and they’ve got enough men that they might be able to fight off the bandits.The Crimson Hood has eighty or so men, so they might loot a part of the town and come back later for the rest.There ought to be knights or soldiers to deal with this.”

Bargle spat on the ground.“They all went off to war.Hey, if this Julius Craton guy isn’t handy, maybe we can get someone else to help.I heard good things about Sorcerer Lord Jayden.”

Yot stared at him.“The guy who wants to overthrow the king and queen?”

“It’s a popular hobby.The rest of the time he helps out peasants and itty bitty towns like Honeywild.I bet you a small green frog that we can talk him into hunting bandits.”

“It might work.Let’s go deeper into the woods.It’s safer far from the edge.”

The goblin band was morose as they headed for the center of Monster Woods.Goblins were mischievous, but they weren’t used to the violence that had spread to their corner of the world.A few even suggested leaving Monster Woods until the Crimson Hood bandits left or were defeated.The idea wasn’t outrageous.Large groups of goblins like this often relocated when times were hard.They also relocated to find new people to annoy, and sometimes moved for no reason at all.

They came across other denizens of the woods after one hour’s march. Giant mushrooms covered in blinking eyes shuffled across the forest floor in a slow, stately procession.The lead mushroom was ten feet tall and pale white, while smaller mushrooms followed it.A smaller mushroom stopped to study the approaching goblins until the largest mushroom made a rumbling sound that brought it back in line.

“Hi, Sven,” Barge said to the leading mushroom.“You’re starting the migration kind of late this year.”

The giant mushroom rolled its many eyes, as if to say, ‘Don’t get me started.’

Ted stared at the mushrooms as they shambled away.He pointed at a small one in the back and asked, “Monster?”

“No,” Pith assured the boy.“Monsters do bad things.Sven and his family don’t bother anyone.”

Night approached and the goblins made camp.They settled down for the night and drew lots for who had to tell Ted a story.

Bargle started a fire and walked away from the others.“I did last night’s story, so somebody else does it tonight.Pith and me will keep watch.”

“Hey, he draws lots the same as the rest of us,” a feathered goblin demanded.

“Not this time,” Bargle said.He took Pith outside of the goblins’ crude camp, far from Ted’s ears. “I’ve been thinking it over, and I’m going for help.Word is this Jayden guy is nearby.I’ll bring him back.”

“He’ll want money.Humans always do.”

Bargle nodded.“Yeah. The bandits must have some gold after robbing those farms.If he wants more, I’ll say the local baron has gold he can steal.Jayden likes picking fights with royalty.”

“Are you sure we want a guy like that around?” Pith asked.“We might get rid of the bandits and replace them with someone worse.”

“If you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it, because I’m all out.”

Pith’s shoulders slumped.“I’ve got nothing.Yot and me will keep the other goblins moving so we can’t be found easy.You just be careful.It’s dangerous out there.”

Snap.

The sound was faint and far away, but both goblins heard it. There was another snap, and a bump of someone hitting a tree.Bargle and Pith ran back to the camp as fast as they could.

“Douse the fires,” Bargle ordered.Most of the goblins stared at him, but a few smothered their fires by kicking dirt on them.Goblins grabbed clubs and slings before hiding behind trees.

Bargle heard more snaps and thuds as someone stumbled through the woods, and it was getting closer.There was a jingling noise, like tiny bits of metal shaking back and forth. Bargle had heard that sound once before when he’d escaped a squad of swordsmen.

“Chainmail,” Bargel whispered.“The guy is wearing armor, and I bet he’s armed.”

More jingling followed.Yot tightly gripped his club.“I only hear one guy.Maybe he’s a scout.”

The goblins raised their makeshift weapons, ready to fight if they had to, when a lone man staggered into their midst.Bargle opened his mouth to howl a battle cry when the man collapsed at his feet.

Bargle stared at the fallen man.“That was different.”

Yot frowned.“We usually have to do more to stop a big fellow like him.”

Goblins relit their fires and took a closer look at the man.He wore a steel breastplate, chain armor over his arms and legs, leather boots and a helmet that covered the sides of his face but left the front open.The man had a short sword and dagger sheathed on his belt, a backpack and nothing more. For some reason his armor looked wet under the poor light, but there were no streams or ponds nearby.

A goblin brought over a lit branch to the man, and the band gasped in horror.Their unconscious intruder was wet, all right, but not with water.His armor was stained red, and his leather boots were more crimson than brown.

Bargle tossed his club aside.“He’s hurt bad!Quick, get his armor off and bind his wounds!”

Goblins were tricksters at heart and had no desire to see someone die. They struggled to remove the man’s armor and offer what little help they could.Piece by piece the armor came off, the goblins working slowly to prevent making the man’s injuries worse.Ted came over, but Pith quickly escorted the boy away from the gristly sight.

Trying to fight back a sense of panic, Bargle said, “I don’t know what he was doing out so late, or why he came into Monster Woods.He must have been desperate.Maybe the Crimson Hood bandits attacked him.”

“Then they’re dumber than they look,” Yot said.“This is Julius Craton.”

Bargle’s jaw dropped.“What? You’re sure?”

“I saw him two years ago in Kaleoth.”Yot studied the man, now missing his breastplate and the chainmail on his arms.“He was being chased out of the kingdom after foiling a plot against the king.”

Pith frowned.“They chased him out for that?”

“Members of the royal family were in on the plot.”Yot shook his head.“Poor guy just can’t catch a break.”

Bargle waved his hands at Julius and shouted, “Save him!We can’t have a famous person die on us.We’ll get blamed!Bandage his wounds, stitch him up, anything!”

“He hasn’t got a scratch on him,” Yot told him.

Goblins scooted in closer to study Julius.The hero had bruises aplenty, but no cuts.Puzzled, Bargle pointed to the man’s stained armor and asked, “Then what’s wrong with him, and where did the red stuff come from?”

Pith came over and pressed an ear to Julius’ chest.“He’s breathing.I think he’s just so exhausted that he fell over.As for his armor, if it’s not his blood then he got into a fight and won.”

Yot scratched his head.“What idiot is stupid enough to pick a fight with the biggest hero around? I mean, I’ve barely got two spoonfuls of brains, and even I’m not that dumb.”

“It does take a special kind of stupid to do that,” Pith agreed.

“Freaky,” Bargle said.He helped the goblins scrub off Julius’ armor so the smell wouldn’t attract predators.“I guess we should make a litter and carry him to a safe place until he gets better. Hey, guys, we’re saving a hero. That’s got to be a first for goblins.”

Snap.Snap, snap, thud.

Bargle turned around when he heard the noises.It was coming from the same direction Julius had, but there were several sources.Bargle waved for two goblins to come with him before he went to investigate.

Bargle and the two goblins snuck up behind a tree and spotted the new intruders.There were a bunch of them, maybe twenty.These intruders had spears and shields, and two carried lanterns.They were too far away to see clearly, especially in the dense woods, but Bargle could make out the red hoods the men wore.

“Oh no,” one of the goblins said.

“Back to the others,” Bargle said.He led them back to the group to find Yot standing over their unconscious guest.“It’s the Crimson Hood bandits.”

“They’ve never come into Monster Woods before!” a goblin cried out.

“They’re here now, and I figure this fella is the reason why.”Bargle pointed his club at Julius and said, “There’s no loot here, no farms, but Julius has armor and weapons worth good money. Crimson Hood bandits must have found him and tried to take him down.”

Goblins found two long, narrow branches and lashed them together with strips of leather to make a litter.They lifted Julius and set him on the litter, ten goblins pulling it along at the front while the back end slid on the ground, then dragged him deeper into the woods.One hundred twenty goblins followed, keeping wary eyes on the distant bandits.

Normally this would be enough for them to get away from an enemy. Men so feared Monster Woods that they wouldn’t go more than a stone’s throw within its borders no matter the reason. Even criminals wouldn’t take the risk. But tonight the woods’ fearsome and largely undeserved reputation offered no protection, and the bandits followed them ever deeper into the woods.Their pursuers moved slowly but never stopped.

“This can’t be happening,” a hyperventilating goblin said.

“It is, so keep moving,” Yot told him.“And keep quiet or they’ll hear us.They don’t know we’re here, and we want to keep it that way.”

Bargle looked around until he spotted Ted.The boy was fast asleep in Pith’s arms, a blessing indeed when they needed to be quiet.

The goblins hurried along as quickly and as quietly as they could, but the light and sound of their pursuers stumbling through the woods never left them.Bargle couldn’t figure out for the life of him how these men were following them. The goblins traveled without light and were as quiet as they could be.Why hadn’t they lost the bandits yet?

Then he looked down.“The litter. It’s digging a rut in the dirt when we pull it.The bandits aren’t going to lose us when there’s a line in the ground showing them where to go.”

“We can’t leave him,” Yot protested.“Julius has done good, and he’s not stuck up like most important people.”

Pith pointed at the men still following them.“If we leave Julius then those men get him, and we know how that ends.Get more guys on the back and lift it up, and rotate goblins so nobody doing it gets too tired.We’ll take him to rocky ground where the litter won’t leave a mark and neither will out feet.”

The goblins changed direction and left as silently as they could. Their pursuers weren’t so quiet, tripping and banging into things.There was some shouting as well.Bargle head what might be an argument, and became so curious that he stayed back as the goblins continued their escape.

“You promised us land!” a bandit screamed.“You said we’d have our own farms!It was supposed to end months ago!”

Another bandit grabbed the first one by the shoulders and shook him. “Hold it together!We’re so close!We can still have everything I promised!”

The first bandit shook himself free.“Everything you promised?My brothers, my cousins, they’re gone!You can’t fix that!We trusted you!”

That was a step too far, and the second bandit slapped him. “Julius Craton took your family members from you, not me.He came after us, and we’re doomed if he gets word to the authorities.We finish this tonight.Now get moving.”

“No!I’m through with you, all of you!”The bandit tried to march off, a mistake he didn’t have time to regret as the other bandits turned on him.Bargle staggered back and tried to look away, but was glad he didn’t when the hoods slipped off two of the bandits.It had been a long time since he’d visited Honeywild, but he had no trouble recognizing the town’s mayor and his younger brother.

Bargle ran to catch up with the other goblins.He stopped Yot in the darkness and grabbed him by the arm. “The bandits are men from Honeywild! I saw them.They talked about getting land and farms.”

Pith hurried over and handed Ted to another goblin.“Then these attacks aren’t just robbery.Honeywild has lots of people and no good land to move into.With those farmers dead then someone gets to take their land.Men in Honeywild must have done those horrible crimes so they could claim the land.”

“But how could they?” Yot asked.

Pith frowned.“If no one knows they’re the bandits, then no one could object to them resettling farms left fallow by bandit attacks.”

Yot waved his hands.“No, I mean how could they attack their own neighbors?”

Bargle looked back at the lights and shouting in the distance.“I don’t know.I think these are all of the bandits left.They said Julius Craton came after them.I guess that’s where the red on his armor came from.”

“But they had eighty bandits,” Yot said.

“And they ran into a hero who’s been fighting impossible odds for years,” Pith said.He glanced at Julius, still unconscious.

That was when Ted woke up.The poor boy looked back at the lights behind them, and he saw men in red hoods.Pith saw what was happening and tried to shield the boy, but it was too late.Ted screamed.

“Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Pith promised, but Ted kept screaming. The poor boy had seen these men before, and he knew terrors the goblins could only imagine.

Goblins broke into a run with the bandits staggering after them. The bandits were nearly as exhausted as Julius and soon lost ground.But even when the goblins reached stony ground they couldn’t escape when Tim’s crying gave away their position.

“I’m rethinking having Ted as a member,” Yot gasped.

Bargle huffed and puffed at the exertion of running so far.“Not now!”

It took far too long, but the goblins got far enough away from that they could stop for a breather.Bargle looked back at the lights from the Crimson Hood bandits, still following them in the darkness.Pith managed to calm down Ted, no easy feat, and a goblin with buckteeth said, “I think we lost them.”

“For how long?” Bargle asked.“They’re after Julius and won’t stop until they get him.Can we outrun them all night?All day tomorrow?Julius is going to need days to get his strength back.”

“What do we do?” asked Yot.  He pointed at the following lights and said, “Those men are armed and out for blood.It takes ten goblins to face one human!  We can’t fight so many of them.  Can we get help from the tentacled horror?I’m not sure we can reach him in time.”

Bargle looked at Julius Craton.The man was a hero, and even he was down and defeated.What hope did goblins have?They were tricksters, annoyances, and the men after them were killers.Terror gripped Bargle, and then he saw Julius’ short sword sheathed on his belt. It belonged to a hero who no doubt needed and demanded the best weapons.It might be the edge the goblins needed.He went over and grabbed the sword.

“We fight.”Other goblins cried out in dismay, certain they’d be killed, but Bargle pressed on. “Those men are tired, scared, lost. They’ve lost three quarters their manpower.If we hit them from surprise and pile on, we can win.We can beat them.We have to. We fight or they’ll keep coming after us and the men living near Monster Woods.”

That’s when Bargle drew Julius’ sword.The short blade was the right size for a goblin, well balanced and in perfect condition.But as he drew it, the sword began to glow.Goblins backed away as the sword rumbled to life.

Who are you?”it demanded.“Wait, goblins?Julius was fighting bandits when he sheathed me.”

Bargle pointed at the bandits with his left hand.“That’s them over there.Your boss fell down at our knees, and the bad guys are after us.Can help us?”

The sword glimmered before it answered.“Julius Craton is my partner and friend.I’ll let you use me to my fullest extent to save him, but I go back to him once the fight is over.Goblin, I am Sworn Doom, relic of the ancient Elf Empire, and those who face me in battle die.They also have closed casket funerals.Are you prepared for the battle to come?”

Bargle looked at the sword, not scared of it, but sad at what was had to happen next.“Those men have done terrible things for two years.We tried to stay away from them, but they’ve come into Monster Woods, our home. I don’t want to fight them, but I don’t think there’s a choice anymore.They have to be stopped while there are still good people left.”

“Well said.Sheath me until battle is joined.”

Bargle put his borrowed sword back in its sheath, and the glow died away.Goblins were small and weak, but if they struck from surprise, and one of them had a magic weapon, they stood a chance.The other goblins were terrified.He needed them to be strong just for a little while.Bargle gripped the sword tightly before he addressed his fellow goblins.

“Once upon a time there were monsters here that ate up every animal and destroyed all that they touched.”Bargle pointed the still sheathed sword at the bandits drawing closer. “Tonight monsters are here again. They take and take until there’s nothing left, just like before.The monsters in the old days won because nobody stood up to them.Bounty hunters, mercenaries, wizards, they sat back and watched it happen without lifting a finger.”

Bargle pointed at Julius.“One hero stood up to the monsters long ago, and another one is trying to stop the monsters today, but there’s a difference.Biff was alone, but Julius has us.One hundred twenty goblins against tired, scared men lost in Monster Woods.These woods are ours, and those, those thingsdon’t belong here after what they’ve done.”

He turned to face bandits close enough that the goblins could hear the men cough.“The monsters are here, boys.We stop them or Monster Woods grows just like it did in the old days.Yot, take half the guys and go to the left.Pith, take the rest and go to the right.I’ll stay with Julius.Wait until I draw his sword and it gets all glowie, then fight for your lives.”

As inspirational speeches went it wasn’t that good, and Bargle’s plan was questionable at best, but scared goblins followed orders and retreated into the darkness.Bargle stood in front of Julius as the bandits edged closer.The men coughed and staggered came nearer.One of the bandits spotted Bargle standing over Julius. The man squinted and pointed his spear at the goblin.

“Now!” Bargle screamed.He drew Sworn Doom, and the blade glowed as bright as a lantern. Goblins swarmed over the bandits from all sides, swinging clubs, throwing rocks, punching, kicking, biting. They grabbed the bandits’ spears and piled onto the wicked men.Bandits knocked goblins aside, only to have more goblins jump them.

Bargle charged the nearest bandit and swung his borrowed sword. The bandit saw the glowing magic sword and panicked.He recognized it, and with a look of utter desperation he backed up against a tree and raised a shield.

Doom!”the sword yelled.It went through the bandit’s shield, cutting through it as if it was made of warm butter, and then it went through the bandit.

Bargle gasped in horror at what he’d done.He looked away from the sight to find the fight seesawing between the men and goblins, with each side gaining ground and then losing it. One goblin armed with a magic sword would tip the battle in the goblins’ favor, and its absence would ruin them. He hoped there could be some forgiveness for his actions as he charged the next bandit.

Doom!

* * * * *

Julius Craton woke the following morning in a patch of tall grass alongside a road.This surprised him.After last night he’d been sure he wouldn’t wake up at all.He was sore, tired, his mouth was dry and his eyes hurt, but he was alive.His armor and weapon were set beside him, and both had been cleaned.This was odd.Stranger still, he wasn’t alone.A small boy sat on his chest.

“Hi.”The boy was dirty and wore rags, but he seemed to be in good health.He also had a large wood spoon and a tin pot filled with what looked like cold split pea soup.Smiling, the boy scooped up a spoonful of food and tried to stick it in Julius’ mouth.

“Hello,” Julius said.He sat up and put an arm around the boy.“What’s your name?”

“Hi.”

“I guess you’re a little young to talk to.”Julius rubbed his sore arms and looked around.He vaguely recalled fleeing from Honeywild after he’d learned the town’s terrible secret.The night had been a string of brutal battles as he tried to escape. After that things became blurry.

Julius drew his sword and held it up.“I’m not complaining that I’m still breathing, but what happened last night?”

Sworn Doom glowed now that it was out of its sheath, and the sword said, “You received considerable help after collapsing.Your benefactors would like to remain anonymous, and I intend to respect their wishes on the matter.”

“Hello!”Julius hastily sheathed his blade and turned to look at the speaker, and found an old couple hurrying over to his side.“Stars above, you’re Julius Craton!Sir, it’s good to see you well!My grandson saw you fighting the Crimson Hood bandits yesterday.We feared the worst, but here you are alive and well, and with young Ted Valush.We’d thought him lost months ago.”

Julius tried to get up and winced in pain.The couple helped him to his feet, and the woman took the boy from his arms.“I fought the bandits, but I lost sight of them after they chased me into these woods.”

The elderly couple gasped at the news.The woman asked, “You went into Monster Woods?Sir, you must be the greatest warrior ever born to come out alive! And the bandits?Sir, if they entered Monster Woods then they’ll not be seen again.”

Julius studied the woods and thought he saw movement deep within it. Whoever or whatever was there kept its distance.If the person or beast had intended to kill Julius, it had ample opportunities before he woke up, so it was safe to assume the unseen watcher meant no harm.“I’ve never heard of these woods.What danger is in them?”

The old man picked up Julius’ armor and sword before leading him down the road.“You never heard the tale?Well, once upon a time…”


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