Lloyd woke up the following morning to the sun peeking through the trees. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and stretched his sore legs. The goblins were still asleep, snoring ridiculously loud. Lloyd shook Bluk.
“Bluk, it’s time to get up,” Lloyd said. Bluk did an extra loud snore and rolled over. Lloyd smacked him across the face to wake him up, but Bluk blissfully snored on.
“Seriously?” complained Lloyd. “Shade, get over here and do that tickling thing you do.”
“Yes master,” the shade replied.
“Warrgh!” roared the goblin, leaping up and crashing back down, as the shade tickled him.
“Okay, that’s enough,” said Lloyd. “Bluk, wake up your fellow goblins and eat breakfast. We’re going to start traveling again soon.”
“Wha’ was that ghost thingy doin’? ‘Cuz jeez, that tickled,” asked Bluk as he headed over to Floppy, (one of the goblins), to wake him up.
“He was tickling you. Shades are masters of tickling,” answered Lloyd, watching Bluk in amusement as he picked up the goblins one by one and dropped them back onto the ground, painfully waking them up. When Bluk finished waking up the other goblins, they all ate breakfast.
After Lloyd had eaten a few pieces of jerky, and the goblins had finished squabbling over the deer’s liver, Lloyd looked at his compass. After he figured out which direction was South-East, he resumed walking in that direction. The goblins followed, the leaves from last year’s autumn crunching underfoot. The trees were not packed as tightly as they were back closer to George’s castle.
After a while they passed a clearing which was occupied by a small castle, even smaller than Lloyd’s. It was probably one of George’s nobility’s castles. It had a small village surrounding it, but Lloyd avoided it. Somehow, he didn’t think the villagers would be very welcoming towards a necromancer, five goblins, and a shade, and Lloyd didn’t exactly want a battle with the castle’s garrison, small as it probably was.
They passed the castle without any incidences, despite the fact that Koot had kept trying to sneak off to rob some farmers.
A while later, after they were quite far away from the castle, Lloyd heard a shuffle in a nearby bush and a scuffle of leaves. “that better not be who I think it is,” he growled in a low undertone. He was feeling a bit mischievous that morning, so he decided to do a prank. He concentrated, and his eyes flashed into their creepy snake version for half a second. All of a sudden, a familiar shriek cut through the air, startling the goblins.
Pale-faced Fareleck leapt out from the bush with his legs flailing frantically as he ran, tripping, over to Lloyd and company.
“A… a… a skel… a skeleton! It was moving!” panted Fareleck.
“What? Really? Where?” asked Lloyd, winking at the confused looking goblins.
“In… in there!” gasped Fareleck, pointing at the bush.
Though he tried to quench it, a grin spread across Lloyd’s features.
“What? It really was moving. No, really!” insisted Fareleck, as Lloyd gave an involuntary snort of laughter.
“Of course it was moving. I’m a necromancer, remember? A master of the dead? I summoned that skeleton,” revealed Lloyd.
“Oh. Yeah. Of course. I knew that. I was just… uh… pretending! Yeah, I was just pretending to be scared! I wasn’t really scared,”
“Wow, you must be a good actor, then. I can’t make myself turn pale, or start sweating,” spoke Lloyd sarcastically.
“I… well…” Fareleck trailed off. “Whatever,” he muttered.
“Anyway,” said Lloyd, with the prank over. “No, you are not coming. How old are you anyway? Eight? Nine?”
“Ten!” said Fareleck indignantly.
“So?” Lloyd spoke. “That’s still not very old.”
“What? Yes, it is! Ten is in the double digits!” said Fareleck, even more indignant.
“Why are you so annoying?” questioned Lloyd.
“I’m annoying? You are way more annoying than me,” argued Fareleck.
Lloyd was getting incredibly bothered by now. “Why do you want to come so much?” he asked.
“Because it sounds like a fun adventure. Duh,” answered Fareleck. Lloyd thought for a minute. He decided that if they got into some real danger, Fareleck would probably just chicken out and leave. Otherwise, he’ll bother them the whole trip, popping in to ask if he can come every other day.
“Fine,” said Lloyd, deciding. “You can come.”
“But I’m really good at… wait, I can come? Really? You’re not joking? You’re actually—”
“Yes, now put a lid on your constantly overflowing cauldron,” interrupted Lloyd. Fareleck looked confused.
“My cauldron? I didn’t bring any cauldron, what are you talking about?” asked Fareleck.
“Your mouth,” answered Lloyd.
“Huh? But my mouth isn’t a cauldron, it’s a, well, mouth,” spoke Fareleck, still confused.
“It’s a metaphor,” explained Lloyd.
“A what? Is that some kind of cauldron? I don’t understand,” said Fareleck.
“Never mind,” sighed Lloyd exasperatedly.
“Okay,” said Fareleck.
The group of princess rescuers walked on, and Lloyd was glad that their newest member had finally quieted down. At noon, the strange group stopped for lunch. Unfortunately for Lloyd, Fareleck started singing.
“We’re going to save a prin-cess, we’re going to save a prin-cess…” sang Fareleck. Lloyd glared at him until he trailed off. Lloyd began to eat some of his venison jerky. Fareleck opened up his own rations bag and ate some beef jerky.
“Hey, Lloyd. Can I ask you something?” asked Fareleck.
“if you absolutely have to,” Lloyd answered.
“After you save the princess, are you going to kiss her?” Fareleck asked.
“No! Absolutely not! What do you think I am, some kind of romantic knight?” exclaimed Lloyd, horrified at the notion.
“But… I thought… isn’t that what you do when you rescue a princess?” asked Fareleck, confused.
“That’s only if you’re in a romantic relationship with the said princess, or if you’re one of those handsome heroes that rescue all the maidens, of which I am neither!” explained Lloyd.
“Oh,” said Fareleck. “But wait… if you’re not either of those, plus you’re not a knight, why are you even rescuing her, then?”
“Well, I have a friend who wanted me to, and I owed them a sort of favor, but other than that…” Lloyd stopped to think. “I actually have no idea.”
“Okay. That kind of makes sense…” spoke Fareleck.
As conversation trailed off and lunch was eaten, everybody began walking again. Everybody except Fareleck, that is. Fareleck was skipping around everywhere, every once in a while picking up a bug and attempting to show it to Lloyd, who was not interested. Eventually, he gave up trying to show it to Lloyd and showed the bug to Bluk instead. Bluk looked at the bug and promptly ate it.
“Hey!” complained Fareleck.
“Mm, tha’ was yummy! Git me ‘nuther one will ya?” asked Bluk. Fareleck obliged delightedly to Bluk’s request, gathering bugs for him to eat. He seemed to think it was hilarious how Bluk devoured the bugs, and when the other goblins realized what was happening, they got Fareleck to catch bugs for them as well. Lloyd, however, did not think it was funny, nor delicious, and only got irritated. The shade was as impassive as ever.
They continued traveling until the sun began to set. Lloyd and the goblins began to set up camp as the sun traveled over the horizon, and only finished after the last few sunbeams had disappeared. Lloyd ate supper, which was more delicious unseasoned venison jerky, which he had had for all his meals in the last couple of days. The goblins had their usual disgusting carcass, and Fareleck had his beef jerky, which, fortunately for him, was seasoned. The shade like usual didn’t eat anything.
Everybody settled down for the night on the ground, which Fareleck complained was uncomfortable.
“But it’s super poky and it hurts,” he whined.
“That’s probably because you’re lying on a thistle,” explained Lloyd helpfully.
“Oh, that makes sense,” admitted Fareleck, as he shifted to somewhere that didn’t have any spiny plants.
Everybody fell asleep to the wind rustling through the trees and the occasional night critter crawling over one’s cheek.
Irvina had a massive headache. When the soldier had knocked her out two days ago, she had woken up to a splitting migraine, which had momentarily distracted her from her hunger and thirst. Luckily for her, there had been a cup of water and a crust of bread to eat. To Irvina, who was used to fancy, dainty dishes, the crust of bread had tasted bland and disgusting. She was so hungry that she had eaten it anyway, along with drinking the cup of water. She had only gotten one other meal that day, which had also been a crust of bread and a dirty cup of water.
It was now the morning of the next day, and Irvina looked down on yet another crust of bread and cup of water, wishing they would give her something else. She didn’t dare ask, for fear that they would take away what she already did have, the bread and water. Also, food was the least of her problems. She was going to a castle to marry the exact same person who was treating her like this, and she had her intense headache to make her already bad misery even worse.
Bob was unfortunately making really good time, Irvina noted, mostly by driving everybody so hard that a lot of them were dying. It was sickeningly gruesome, not to mention cruel, and Irvina didn’t look out the crack to see who Bob was yelling at now. She heard the clash of a whip, followed by some of Bob’s bull-like roars mingled with some pitiful complaining and begging.
Bob was barbaric, and Irvina buried her face in her hands and began to sob, not for the first time. She reckoned it was probably not for the last time either, unless a wondrous miracle happened in the next few hours.
Aldwyn stared into the clearing, hardly believing his eyes. He felt a sickening feeling of dismay and nausea in his stomach, wishing this was a dream.
What he saw was an army. A very efficient army, and of goblins. Dotted all over in clumps around the bonfire were tents made of various animal skins, going off into the trees behind the fire. Also, large, vicious-looking siege weapons were helter-skelter all over the place, like huge, black, spiny monsters waiting to be unleashed. Around the bonfire itself was a bunch of goblins cooking their dinner. At first Aldwyn had thought that this was one of Vladimir’s armies, but now he could see that that wasn’t so, unless the Blood King had suddenly changed his style.
All of the Blood King’s goblins were supposedly southern goblins, which were big, strong and bulky, armed with heavy armor, their skin being a sort of brownish beige. These goblins looked more northern, much shorter but with long, lanky arms and dark green skin.
The other thing that gave it away was the insignia on all the banners fluttering in the breeze. Vladimir’s banners had an upright blood red axe on a black background, with random red dots splattered around the edges. These banners looked quite different, with an icy blue, vertical icicle in front of two nasty, jagged looking black daggers outlined by white, which were crisscrossed. The only similarity was that the background was also all black.
As Aldwyn continued scanning the apparent army, A pale, young woman in black armor stepped out of the largest tent, which was directly behind the bonfire. Aldwyn was almost knocked back by her presence. For one thing, she was bewitchingly beautiful, but that didn’t really affect Aldwyn. What really hit Aldwyn was the sense of dark magic flowing from her. Aldwyn had gone to the emperor’s palace once in his life, and though a lot of the wizards and sorcerers there were formidable, some even about equal with this woman, only the Emperor’s high mage gave off a sense of light magic more intense than this woman’s dark magic.
Of course, magic isn’t everything. One could be more magically powerful, but less smart or skilled, and so get defeated by someone with weaker magic who knew how to put it to more efficient use. Someone could even win without any magic at all, just an old-fashioned sword and shield.
Aldwyn knew that though a good bit of it is, a lot of magic isn’t for fighting and destruction. There is also magic for healing, protecting, giving yourself an easy life by doing chores for you, etc. Aldwyn had healing magic, and he knew that a lot of creatures also had helpful, healing magic, like other elves, or fairies. Some were even as proficient in magic as Vladimir himself, like the fairy queen. Though such light magic was preferable, in Aldwyn’s opinion, it wasn’t very useful in a war, and the fairy queen would be useless against Vladimir in a fight. If the fairy queen went against the Blood King in a restore-a-forest-by-magic contest, however, Vladimir would be the one who is useless. Unfortunately, losing a contest like that wouldn’t stop Vladimir from destroying the world and enslaving thousands.
Aldwyn got startled out of his thoughts when the bonfire suddenly turned blue and Aldwyn got hit with a wave of cold air. The fire disappeared, along with all the light, and Aldwyn could only see shadows. As the fire went out, the woman spoke.
“Did I say you could light a fire?” she asked a goblin calmly.
“No, yer ladyship,” answered the goblin with a lowered head.
“Are you aware, captain, that a fire, especially one of this magnitude, sends smoke into the air, alerting everybody nearby that we’re here? Or did you not think of something so simple as that?” reprimanded the woman.
“No, I did not think of tha’,” agreed the goblin reluctantly.
“You’re demoted,” she said, with a smooth indifference to her voice. “Gorshoot, you are the new captain. Now write down this bonfire incident on this idiot’s report, to make sure he doesn’t get promoted back to captain again,”
“Yes, ma’am,” spoke the new captain with a grin at the sudden promotion, not to mention the fact that he got to mark down his former captain, who was not very liked.
“Now, Gorshoot, when you are done with that, we shall discuss how to accomplish our lord’s difficult orders,” spoke the woman.
“Bu’… we’re not anywhere near our destination, wha discuss it now?” asked Gorshoot.
“Do you want to be demoted too, captain?” asked the woman.
“No, ma’am,” answered Gorshoot quickly.
Aldwyn frowned in his hiding place, trying to make sense of what he had heard. Obviously, some captain got demoted, but “Our lord’s difficult orders,” and “not anywhere near our destination,” were what Aldwyn was concerned about. Who was this lord? They didn’t have the banner of the Blood King, but Aldwyn couldn’t think of anybody else who would have such a large goblin army or have such a powerful sorceress.
Maybe no one knew about this “lord”, or perhaps Aldwyn had just not heard of him. Or maybe, perhaps it was someone obvious, and if Aldwyn knew who it was he would laugh at not having thought of them immediately.
A goblin wandered near, but Aldwyn didn’t notice. He shifted in his hiding place slightly and snapped a twig. He immediately tensed up, and the nearby goblin that Aldwyn was now painfully aware of came over to investigate. Aldwyn couldn’t see the goblin very well because it was so dark out, and so was startled as he felt himself suddenly yanked out from behind the bush.
“Wha’ have we got ‘ere? Ow!” said the goblin, as Aldwyn frantically punched him in the face, struggling. The goblin let go of Aldwyn with one hand to punch him back. The goblin succeeded, and Aldwyn felt a trickle of blood on his lip. He continued struggling, finally managing to break free only to have two more goblins jump on him, causing him to hit the ground painfully.
“Hey, Blug, wha’ don’t ya go fetch the cap’n,” said one of the goblins on top of Aldwyn to the goblin that had grabbed him originally. As Blug jogged off to fetch Gorshoot, Aldwyn struggled futilely. He felt a goblin’s fist collide with his face again, along with a burst of pain. He new shouting would only bring more goblins, so he didn’t call for help. Next thing he new a spear was at his throat.
“Who’s this?” demanded Gorshoot.
“We found ‘im lurkin’ in a bush, probably spyin’,” answered one of the goblins holding Aldwyn.
“Spyin’? Well, tha’s not allowed now, is it?” grunted the captain. He turned to Aldwyn. “Who’re ya workin’ for spyin’? Come now, spit it out!”
“I… I merely was taking a stroll through the forest, and, well, I saw an orange light, and I was worried that there might be a forest fire,” answered Aldwyn.
“Well what were ya doin’ lurkin’ in them bushes then, eh?” interrogated Gorshoot.
“Well…” began Aldwyn, but he was interrupted by the goblin captain before he could continue.
“I’ll tell ya wha’ you were doin’, you were spyin’!” Gorshoot said. He cackled slightly. “An’ we knows wha’ happens to folks who be spyin’, don’t we, goblins?”
Everybody except Aldwyn laughed. Gorshoot poked Aldwyn in the neck with his spear, and Aldwyn frantically tried to pull himself out of the goblins’ grip.
“Captain?” came the woman’s voice from behind Gorshoot. “Just what exactly is going on here?”
“Uh, nothin’ ma’am,”
“Obviously not. Don’t lie to me, goblin. I distinctly see that there’s an elf that you are about to impale,” said the woman bluntly.
“Sorry ma’am. There is an elf who be spyin’ on us ma’am!”
“I promise I was not spying; I merely came upon your encampment by chance when I saw the light from your fire,” said Aldwyn to the woman.
“You see, goblins, this is why you don’t light fires, someone will see it,” explained the woman to the goblins. Then she turned to Aldwyn. “As for you, elf, even if you didn’t mean to stumble upon us, that does not change the fact that you now know of us, so I cannot merely let you go. Gorshoot, you will take personal charge of him and assign him manual labor. Do not kill or injure him, an elf could be useful. I sense that he has healing magic, which could be of use in the aftermath of a battle.”
After the woman had finished her lecture, Gorshoot dragged Aldwyn over to an area where some other goblins were working on building a trebuchet.
“alrigh’ elf, start cuttin’ these here planks like so, alrigh’?” said Gorshoot, shoving Aldwyn towards the project. He then looked at the other goblins. “Make sure this elf ‘ere don’ run off, now will ya? An’ don’ hurt ‘im too bad now either. Orders from Miss Levona ‘erself.”
“Yessir cap’n,” came the response. Gorshoot then left but came back promptly with a chain and manacle. He attached the manacle to Aldwyn’s left foot, then attached the other end of the chain to a nearby tree. He then shoved Aldwyn for good measure.
Aldwyn began splitting wood next to a goblin. How had he got himself into this situation? It all had just sort of happened so fast, and now he was helping some goblin army build trebuchets. He really hoped they weren’t planning on assaulting George’s castle; that would be extremely unfortunate. He began pondering how he should escape, but sadly he couldn’t think of anything. He was no fighter; he was merely a helpful elf who likes apples and making friends. He hoped that the woman from earlier wouldn’t change her mind about not killing him, because he still needed to convince George not to marry princess Irvina to Bob the Rich. Also, he didn’t want to die. There was that too.
Only the future would tell.