Orsog’s band of brawlers made no complaint as they sped over the broad grass and needle-strewn ground of the open pine forest. The last ambush had taught them to keep eyes open and mouths shut
Orsog’s band of brawlers made no complaint as they sped over the broad grass and needle-strewn ground of the open pine forest. The last ambush had taught them to keep eyes open and mouths shut as they sought their goblin foes. Once again, their Volaki ponies grew nervous as they neared their goal. Orsog waved for a halt and dismounted quietly.
“Markos, come with me,” he whispered. “The rest of you, stay here and keep your eyes on the forest.”
The Asentic soldier Orsog chose was big for his people, though still half a head shorter than the barbarian who commanded him. People had judged the man’s fighting skill based on sheer bulk before and had been startled to learn he was as quick and subtle as he was big. He followed Orsog through the tall grass between the massive pine-trunk pillars, with only a quiet whisper to tell of his passage.
The two men followed a gentle rise in the land that became a narrow ridge and ended at the crest of a steep-sided hill. They cast themselves down in the needles and looked over the edge at the goblins encamped below.
“Savages,” Markos grunted.
“No,” Orsog said, “Look at how the shelters are arranged. See the runners passing from fire to fire? It’s organized.”
The trees beneath them were skirted with tightly laced branches, the roofs of small lean-tos where the goblin families lived. The dwellings were arranged in small clusters, with fires between. The squat, green-skinned creatures gathered around the flames, their snakelike eyes catching the light evilly. Runners passed back and forth between the fires, appearing to carry news and goods. Their paths seemed to gather inwards, towards a central circuit of larger blazes. There, a big goblin with a half-dozen attendants was walking around, hearing complaints and issuing orders. In his hand was a long spear of fine craftsmanship, a tangle of feathers tied near the tip. The hand that gripped the spear was painted red, as was his clean-shaven head. An oddly shaped club dangled from one hip.
“Is that their chief?” Markos asked.
“Yes. And look. There’s their shaman.”
Another goblin, bedecked in fresh-looking skins and raw bones, was muttering over a goblin warrior with a long gash across its leg. His hand and head were painted white, but instead of a bald pate, he was crowned with black feathers. He exchanged a few words with the chief as the bigger goblin passed by, never looking up from his work.
“Can he heal it?” The Asentic ruffian asked. “What kind of magic do they have?”
“Not much. He might be able to prevent infection. In battle, he could call down fear. Fire and lightning are beyond him, though.”
“They’re not well armed.”
It was true. Only a few of them had weapons, and they were clearly stolen from their most recent victims. Clothing was also scarce among them, and even that also looked freshly stolen. They were engulfed in mis-matched sized garb, stitched together from the hide of whatever animals were still roasting over their fires.
A sound came from behind. Orsog seized Markos by the back of the neck, stilling him. The sound scampered closer, now, parallel to them, but several paces to the left side. Orsog rose carefully from the cover to see a single goblin hurrying towards the camp.
“Serpent’s fang!” he cursed. “Come, Markos. There’s a second clan coming this way. That was their messenger.”
“How do you know?” The Asentic soldier asked, backing away from their hiding place.
“They notch their ears as clan markings. His were different.”
Once they had both backed safely from the ridge, they set out as swiftly as they could, breaking into a sprint when they were out of earshot of the goblin camp. Long before he reached his men, Orsog began to hear the sounds of battle. There were more screams than battle cries. They were too late.