CAS

CAS

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 3


Irontooth felt uneasy and he could not for-the-life-of-him understand why. The goblins were moving along at a good clip and he’d only had to wound a few, so far, to keep them all in line. He'd put the most vicious of his warriors around the outer edge of the march. They'd probably kill any goblins they came across, but so much the better. It would put the fear of the Biter into the rest. But something was wrong. He was too old and experienced to start mistrusting his instincts now.

"Fang!" he called to a nearby hob. "Sound the horn. Halt the advance."

Fang did not reply, first because he had no tongue and second because he knew better than to question any of his chief’s commands. He'd done that once before. He put a curved and hollow horn to his lips and sounded three short blasts. There were answering cries from around the woods, and a cheer from the goblin troops marching ahead.

***

Airgedlamh and Llawereint were having an easy time. They'd killed five of the hobs already and were stalking number six. This one seemed like it would be an easier kill than any other. It was a very big hobgoblin, maybe the largest that either ranger had ever seen before. Its pack and shield looked like a child’s toys across its broad and unarmored back. A chain vest was dangling from a badly closed flap atop the bag and it had stripped off its padded vest and slung it over a bare shoulder. It was hairy as well, its back a deep, black carpet over greenish skin. No wonder that it sweltered under metal chain and thick padded vest.

"Place your arrows low. Those ribs can deflect the shot," Airgedlamh told his little brother.

"Tell me something that I do not know already," Llawereint shook his head and circled to the right. 

Airgedlamh could not see his brother hidden in the brush but counted five and then released his shaft, his brother fired an eyeblink after. The greyfeathers on the arrow's end were all that could be seen amid the thick black curly hair. The great hob stood stiff, suddenly upright, rising on its toes and then twisted round, its hand searching for the source of pain. Llawereint's arrow merely skimmed across its side parting the hairy coat then ripping a path through leaves and shrubs, the sound like tearing cloth, then disappeared. Airgedlamh shot again and struck the hob’s reaching arm making it draw breath and yowl but as it did a horn was blowing, its cry of pain drowned out.

Llawereint pinned an arrow to its chest and then another from Airgedlamh and as it fell two arrows sprouted, one shattered on its shield another struck its head and lodged in its massive brow.

"Those last were overkill," Llawereint said as he worked the arrow from the dead hob’s skull.

"A waste, true," Airgedlamh agreed.

"What was that horn?" his brother asked.

"If I guess right, they've called a halt. Three short blasts, that’s what I've heard before from hobs, but who's to say, each tribe is different and these..." Airgedlamh pointed to the painted shield. "I do not recognize the bitten sword on red."

"Kamulos!" cursed Llawereint, the arrow snapped at the metal point, buried too deep within the hob’s bony head. "The god’s own luck."

"Do not swear," Airgedlamh chided. "And do not throw ill-luck our way. We'll need more than our fair share. Come let’s see what these hobs do now."

"Wait, let me salvage some of these shafts. We've wasted half a dozen on this one kill," Llawereint said and pushed an arrow through a thick-muscled arm.

"It’s wasting time that concerns me more," Airgedlamh bent to help and, with Llawereint, rolled the hob aside to reach a shaft that had passed half through. "Here's another one gone," he said. The arrow head had broken off when the hob had hit the ground.

"Let’s turn him over. Two are still in his chest," Llawereint said and strained to shift the hob’s dead weight.

"No, we've turned it once, let's just go. Those arrows are buried deep but still not showing through. Will come back and scavenge more when they're all dead," said Airgedlamh.

"What a waste, one arrow out of seven saved," Llawereint mused then quickly followed Airgedlamh.

***

Three hobs walked by. Daghdha and Arawn were well hidden just a few feet away from their casual destructive path, completely undetected.

"Jellytooth, we should call him..." said one hob.

"Jellylegs, be better," said another. "The way he shook, eyeballing those formorians' hairy knees..."

"He'd of sold the whole clan out to save his worthless skin, and now look at....." the voices trailed off and became lost and distant as the hobs moved on.

"We could have taken them," said Arawn.

"Too risky, we don't want to bite more than we can chew," Daghdha rose from their hiding place and began to follow the hobs.

"It will be slow going at this rate," Arawn sighed.

"Patience, patience, they will not escape us."


***

"You will though," said Ogmios.

"What?" Nithad spurted out, startled. They left the fallen hob lying dead among the leaves uncovered, staring blind eyed up at the treetops.

"Come, we need to finish what you started," Ogmios trotted back to where the fight had first begun.

"What do you mean? What needs to be finished?" asked Nithad, confused and struggling distractedly through the woods.

They'd run down a small incline, now it felt twice as steep climbing back up. Nithad stepped to the level path with relief and a deep breath of air. Two bodies were sprawled out, a hob brought down by Ogmios' arrows and the body of the goblin struck down by a spear flung through his back. A trail of greenish blood led to a shrub, its base newly covered with a pile of leaves. It shook as they approached.

"Use your knife," Ogmios said and pointed to the trail.

"What?" asked Nithad once again, then understanding what Ogmios asked of him he shook his head. "No, I can't."

"You must. It would be dead by that hob’s hand if you had not interfered," Ogmios said sternly.

"It’s badly wounded. Can't we just let it go? What harm can it do?" Nithad pleaded.

"It might do none, or it might cost us much, and if it lives it will do harm, and if it doesn't, then will you let it suffer?" Ogmios asked.

They walked to the shaking leaves and Nithad brushed them aside. The wounded goblin shrank back, pulled itself into a ball and cried for mercy. "No kill, no kill, please, please," it wailed.

Nithad raised his knife then stopped. "I can't," he said and threw his dagger to the ground and turned away.

"Then go," said Ogmios quietly. "I cannot have you by my side. This must be done. It brings me no pleasure, only shame that the world is run this way, that creatures such as this pitiful wretch exist and must be slain. We cannot trust its word. It would kill you, torture you first and laugh at your pain, were the situations reversed. You must decide, are you a ranger of your realm? Will you keep it safe and slay its foes? If you cannot do this... this sad deed, then go now, go back to your home."

Nithad stood, his faced flushed red. He retrieved his blade and knelt beside the huddled weeping form.

"I wish it wasn't so," he said. "I'm sorry," and he stabbed. The blade dripped green, he threw it far into the brush and turned to Ogmios. "I feel sick," he said.

"Good," said Ogmios, "Killing is no game. It must be done. Be never proud to take a life."

"You are proud," said Nithad.

"I am proud to defeat my foes, I am always happy to survive, and some, such as hobs, I hate. But hating them does not make me glad to kill," Ogmios looked around, "See to those arrows in that hob, salvage them if you can. I will retrieve those left in the other one, or we'll be using goblin shafts very soon."

"I do not understand," Nithad said.

"You will, or this way is not for you," Ogmios walked away. "Quickly now, we have wasted too much time."

Across the forest hill a horn began to sound.

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