Goblin Stories XIX

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Every so often goblin finds something of real value, the poor bugger.

Submitted: August 28, 2015

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Submitted: August 28, 2015

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“Finny, you’re making me doubt your sanity, and there wasn’t much respect there to begin with,” Stubs told his friend.  “I stood by you when we were almost eaten by a bear, when you mouthed off to that knight and made him chase us fifty miles, and that rumor you started about a giant fire breathing squid on the rampage, in a desert city no less, but this is really making me question our friendship.”

The dirty little digger goblin smiled in response and held up the ornate wood box he’d carried for the last week.  “Oh ye of little faith.  Stubs, old boy, I have a plan.  It may well be the greatest plan ever concocted, one that will make us the envy of goblins everywhere.”

Stubs eyed the box nervously and tugged on his collar.  “Would you mind keeping that closer to the ground?  You know how dangerous it is, and if it falls a few inches less that might make the difference.  Breathing is a habit I don’t want to quit.”

Stubs and Finny were the not so proud owners of a magic gem secured inside a wood box.  They’d been part of a goblin raid on an elf camp when another goblin had grabbed the box and crystal.  The elves had both prized and feared the crystal, for the magic energy stored in it was unstable.  One mistake could set it off and send its owners to meet their maker (along with heaven only knew how many bystanders).  Goblins have a very simple way to evaluate risk, namely if something can kill you it’s a good time to run.  To Stubs’ amazement, Finny had volunteered to dispose of the gem, an offer the other goblins were only too happy to accept.

“It’s real simple,” Finny explained.  The dirty goblin held the box with one hand and his lantern with the other.  Smiling, he nodded at the box and said, “You remember when we found that magic sword?”

Stubs looked down at the scabbard he held that once contained the magic sword Finny was referring to.  “The one that moaned and dripped black stuff, yeah.  We threw it out, and good riddance.”

“The sword wasn’t worth keeping, but this is,” Finny explained.  “The elf wizard we stole it from really wanted it.  That tells me other wizards would want it, too.”

“And might kill us to get it,” Stubs cautioned.  This wasn’t cowardice.  Goblins were so small and weak that larger races could easily defeat them.  Their only chance of winning a fight was having overwhelming numbers on their side, but if a wizard was involved even hordes of goblins weren’t safe.

“I know, but like I said, I have a plan.  Not all wizards are dirt bags.  We just need to find one we can trust and make a deal.”

Stubs went through his pockets until he came up with a map of the region.  He pointed at it and said, “There’s a little problem, namely we are smack dab in the middle of the Land of the Nine Dukes.  Finding a nice person around here, much less a nice wizard, is like panning for gold in a mop bucket.”

“We’re not going to be here long,” Finny told him.  He could see the problem with his plan.  Finding a wizard without first being robbed was going to be hard since the dukes and their followers had no problem with robbing both locals and visitors.  Their reasoning went, ‘I have a sword, and after I stick it in you I’ll get all your stuff’, a sad and tragically common point of view.

Finny had done his best to avoid the risks involved.  They stayed on isolated roads in rural areas, where there were fewer people and fewer reasons for soldiers and knights to be around.  The pair traveled at night and spent their days sleeping in woods far from humans.  So far the plan was working, but Stubs was getting worried.

“We should have dumped the gem somewhere like we did the sword,” Stubs said bitterly.

“That would be littering.”

“I don’t care!”  Stubs stopped walking and pointed at the box.  “Finny, you’ve seen elves, men and dwarfs fight for gold.  They fight even harder for gems or magic.  Well that thing is a magic gem.  They’ll do anything to get their hands on it.”

Smiling, Finny said, “Like give us a lifetime supply of cheese.”

Stubs froze.  “Lifetime supply?”

“That’s the plan.  There’s this group called the Grand Conclave of Wizards, guys and gals with power oozing out of their ears.  But, and this is the important part, they’re not jerks.  We find one and offer a trade, one shiny rock full of magic in return for all the cheese we can eat for the rest of our lives, and I, sir, can eat a lot of cheese.”

“Years and years of cheese,” Stubs said reverently.

Finny put down his lantern and the box so he could put both hands on Stubs’ shoulders.  “This is risky, I get that, but the reward is worth it.  We couldn’t do this with the magic sword we stole from Golomak the False Knight, what with it being screwed up and evil, but the gem isn’t like that.  People will want it.  How often have goblins gotten their hands on something this cool?”

“Lots of times, but then we get mugged.”  Goblin history was filled with unfortunate goblins coming across valuables.  These events never ended well.  Inevitably humans, elves, dwarfs, ogres and sometimes gnomes would show up to seize the riches for themselves.  Ironically enough, humans, elves, dwarfs, ogres and sometimes gnomes then showed up and attacked the new owners.  Such treasures would change hands dozens of times inside of a week, but they never ended up as goblin property.  After that happened a few hundred times goblins came to the conclusion that they couldn’t have nice things.

“And that is the beauty of the plan,” Finny said.  “We only have to keep the gem for a little while.  Once the wizard has it in his hot little hands we’re in the clear.  He can keep it safe and we eat like kings.”

Stubs clutched his empty scabbard more tightly.  “I’ll give it a chance, but if it comes down to losing the gem or our heads then the gem gets the heave ho.”

“Obviously.”  Finny picked up his lantern and the box and continued down the country road with Finny at his side.  “The nearest big city is a cesspool called Cronsword.  The map shows it having half a million people, and it’s decorated with skulls and crossbones.  I doubt we’ll find a friendly wizard, but maybe someone there can tell us where to go.”

Stubs held the map up to the lantern light.  “Cronsword is on the coast.  Bad goes to worse, we can dump the gem into the ocean.”

“That’s the spirit!  Life’s full of choices if you look hard enough.  Why I…hey, what’s that?”

Stubs peered into the darkness.  “What’s what?”

Finny pointed the box at a pile of what looked like branches heaped up along the road.  The problem was that some of the branches curved oddly, and a nauseating stench came off them.  Both goblins went over to investigate.

“Cattle bones,” Stubs declared.  “Someone had a barbecue and left the bits they didn’t want.”

“Generous of them.”  Finny set down the box and crammed a rib in his mouth.  Stubs did the same and grabbed more bones for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Finny was going to comment on their good fortune when he saw more bones dumped around a fire pit.  “Someone’s been eating a lot of beef.”

“It would take a hundred people to eat so much,” Stubs said.  He poked through the second bone pile and frowned.  “Farmers don’t take lightly to losing cows, what with all the milk they make.  One dying is a bad thing.  Two is a disaster.”

Finny backed away.  “Then what would eight be?”

“Eight?”  Stubs looked over at what had caught Finny’s attention.  The field to the left of the road was dark, but he could pick out piles of cattle bones littering the landscape.  He also saw a stone foundation with ashes and charred wood over it.

“This place is a total write off,” Finny said.  There were pieces of the house left around the corners, but even they were blackened and offered little in the way of shelter.  “I don’t think insurance is going to cover this.”

“Monsters aren’t responsible,” Stubs said.  “They eat cows, but they wouldn’t use fire pits to cook the meat.  Someone did this, and there’s a lot of them.”

“Sun’s coming up,” Finny warned.  There wasn’t much cover available, so for lack of better options they hid in the burned out farmhouse.  They tore up the blacked timbers and piled them up in a corner to form a crude hut and went to sleep.

 

 

“Finny, wake up, we’re in trouble,” Stubs whispered.

“I didn’t do it this time,” Finny mumbled.  Stubs shook his shoulder until his friend was fully awake.  “I was having the most wonderful dream, with knights covered in custard and princesses splattered in cow poo.”

“Keep it down,” Stubs warned him.  He crouched down low in their makeshift home and whispered, “I found out who ate those cows.”

Curious, Finny asked, “Who?”

Stubs pointed out an opening between two charred boards.  “Them.”

The crowd coming down the road was immense, a veritable sea of men on the move.  They were an odd bunch, some in army uniforms, some in peasant clothes, some in rags and a few wore armor.  To a man they were armed but with a surprising array of weapons.  Swords, spears, clubs, maces and axes were common, but a few men had bows and many carried sickles and pitchforks.  Few of them carried bags or backpacks, and none rode horses or wagons.

Finny scratched his head.  “Refugees, you think?”

Stubs shook his head.  “We’d see women and children if these men abandoned their homes.  It looks like a Rent-A-Thug convention.

Rolling his eyes, Finny said, “You know they went out of business last year.  Stupid recession.”

Squinting and shading his eyes with his left hand, Stubs said, “Hold on, I see a flag in the back.”

Nervous, Finny said, “Flags mean armies.  I don’t like armies, Stubs.  When armies come through there’s never anything left when they leave.  No houses, no farms, no cheese.”

This wasn’t a lie.  Large armies needed tons of food and drink each day.  Skilled kings sent food by boat or wagon, which was expensive but possible.  More often than not an army on the march got little to no food supplied.  Instead they lived off the land, devastating it like a swarm of locusts as they stripped the countryside bare of anything edible, leaving locals with the choice of fleeing or starving.

“They don’t have a sense of humor, either,” Stubs said.  “I’ve yet to meet a soldier who could appreciate seeing their uniforms on a pig.”

Finny pointed at him and said, “See, I liked that one.”

The sea of men continued down the road, grumbling with each step.  They smelled awful from not bathing, a blend of rancid grease and body odor, with just a hint of smoke and ash.  A few stopped and collected the leg bones of the dead cattle.  They tossed most of them aside since they’d already been cracked open and the marrow scooped out.

“Not a bite since yesterday,” a swordsman in a tattered gray uniform complained.  “We spent a full day walking down a road that ended in a forest, no towns, no farms, no food!  Now we have to walk over land we’ve already cleaned out.”

“Pipe down,” a man with a club said.

The swordsman kicked a pile of bones and sent them airborne.  “I’ll speak my mind when I want!  I left Duke Thornwood’s army to get away from rich boys with no brains giving me orders.  You want to follow someone and let him do the thinking, that’s on you, but I want answers when things go bad.”

“I mean it, keep it to yourself,” the other man said.  “The last guy who mouthed off is in a shallow grave.”

“He is at that,” a commanding voice boomed.  Every man in earshot came to a halt as the speaker approached.  He was a tall man, his clothes fine at some point but now worn and stained with mud.  His blond hair, beard and mustache were trimmed down, but what caught the goblins’ attention was his weaponry.  The man carried a long sword that they knew too well, the same cursed sword once held by Golomak the False Knight that Stubs had thrown off a cliff.

“It’s not possible.”  Stubs spoke barely above a whisper, but soft as it was, it was impossible to ignore the horror in his voice.

The new owner of that wretched sword walked close to the ruined house.  Thirty men followed him closely, one carrying a flag showing a crown dripping blood.  The man gestured to the complaining swordsman and said, “But it’s a half truth, like most of what people tell you.  The dearly departed didn’t like how I run things in this army and thought he could do better.”

The swordsman spit and pointed the way the army had come from.  “And he was right.  You led us down a road going nowhere.  Are you going to do better when we’re in a fight?  That’s what I’m betting my life on, we all are, and you don’t even know where we’re going.”

The army’s commander shrugged.  “I didn’t know where the road went.  If you did you should have said something.  Every man here has gone hungry in his life.  You feasted yesterday on beef and today you have nothing.  That’s life, and more importantly it’s good reason to keep moving.  We need fresh farms and towns to plunder if we expect to eat.”

The swordsman wasn’t satisfied.  “No.  You don’t get to ignore your mistakes just because you’re a king’s son.”

Men gathered around to watch.  Their leader chuckled and said, “I should be ruler of Oceanview Kingdom, except I was cast aside for my brother, Baldos.  But now I am the Fallen King, all the greater for my loss.  Ignore my mistake?  I’m fixing it, raising an army to bring down my brother, the nobles and all the people who despise me.  That’s why everyone’s here.  You all want to get even with the men who refused you what you deserved.

“It’s not going to be easy, fast or safe,” the Fallen King continued.  He walked in front of the gathering men and announced, “Make no mistake, you’ll go days without eating in my service.  You’ll fight and kill, and some of you will die.  But when we’re done the Land of the Nine Dukes will be in flames, the ones who hurt you dead before we move on to Oceanview and there’s even a chance for me to take my revenge.  It will be months or even years before we reach my homeland and destroy my family.  I’m putting your needs above my own.”

“That doesn’t fill our bellies,” the swordsman snapped.

“Make a ring,” the Fallen King told the men around him.  They formed a wide circle with two openings. The circle included the ruined house Finny and Stubs were hiding in, and the two crouched down low and fell silent.  The Fallen King stepped inside the ring and gestured for the swordsman to do the same.

“I don’t lead the army because I’m a king’s son.  I rule because I won the right by combat, defeating all contenders to leadership.  You don’t like the way things are done here, then come and fight me.  Kill me and the army is yours to lead.  But know this, once you enter this ring only one man will be allowed out.”

Looking nervous, the swordsman said, “You’ve got a magic sword.”

“Why so I do,” the Fallen King said mockingly.  Onlookers laughed as the swordsman edged away.  The Fallen King rested the edge of the cursed sword on an intact piece of the house.  The black goo dripping off it sizzled as it ate through the wood.  Finny watched the blade cut though a board over his head and descend closer.

“That ain’t fair!” the swordsman yelled.

The blade came ever closer to Finny.  He flattened himself against the floor, wanting to run away.  There wasn’t room to move in their crude hideaway, and fleeing into this horrible army was certain death.

“Fair?” the Fallen King demanded.  “Was it fair my simpering brother got the throne that should be mine?  Was it fair when you were denied pay you’d earned?  Was it fair when you were treated like mongrel dogs even though you fought and bled for your leaders?  I gave up on fair years ago.  If you want something you take it, because no one is going to give you what you deserve.”

The magic sword continued melting through the crude hut, coming closer to Finny.  He trembled as it came down an inch, then another.

The Fallen King whipped the sword out and pointed it at the swordsman.  “You can follow orders and take the good with the bad, or you can take your chances in the ring.  I don’t care which one you choose, but I won’t waste another minute waiting for you to make a decision.  Which is it?”

The swordsman looked around for support and found none.  A few of his fellows were even making bets on how long he’d last.  He backed away and looked down.  “You’re in charge.”

The Fallen King left the circle and pointed his sword down the road.  “There’s a fork in the road we didn’t take.  That’s fresh territory to plunder.  We’ll take that route and then send out scouts to find more towns.  And bring back prisoners who know the region so this kind of mistake doesn’t happen again.”

With the show over the army moved on.  They grumbled less after seeing one of their own humbled, no doubt worried that they’d be called out and killed if they drew attention to themselves.  There were so many of them it took hours until the last man had left.

“This is my fault,” Stubs said.

Shocked, Finny could only say, “What?’

“I took the sword from Golomak.  The Fallen King wouldn’t have it except for me.”

“You threw the sword off a cliff,” Finny reminded him.

Stubs stared out their crude hut, watching the last of the Fallen King’s men disappear in the distance.  “I thought it would break when it landed, or nobody would find it.  But someone did find it, a bad man who’s doing bad things with it.  He’s going to do more bad things and hurt lots of people.  I should have buried the sword or broke it.  Maybe I could have given it to someone else to break.  I didn’t do that, either.”

“This isn’t your fault,” Finny told him.  “You didn’t make all those bad men follow him.”

“He’s using the sword to stay in charge!  That’s on me.”  Stubs’ voice trailed off and tears ran down his face.  “I did this.  How can I make it right?”

Finny wanted to comfort his friend, but what could he say?  The Fallen King commanded thousands of men, a force even kings and wizards would be hard pressed to stop.  What could goblins do when it took ten goblins to stop even one man?

“The gem,” Finny said.  He grabbed the box and opened it.  Their crude shelter lit up as light poured off the magic gem inside the box.  The gem was unstable, but in the hands of a wizard could do amazing things.  Visions of a lifetime of cheese filled delights evaporated before Finny’s eyes, but it had to be this way.

Closing the box, Finny said, “The Fallen King has power, and so do we.  We can’t use it ourselves, we don’t know how, but we can find people who do.  Come on, Stubs, let’s go stop a monster.”


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