When the Goblin War began, it had been a single unarmed clan that raided a merchant caravan. Now almost a dozen clans lined the rim of the bowl-shaped valley, armed and armored in the spoils
When the Goblin War began, it had been a single unarmed clan that raided a merchant caravan. Now almost a dozen clans lined the rim of the bowl-shaped valley, armed and armored in the spoils of their raids. From their massed hordes thundered the wild beating of mad, barbarous drums, pierced by the shrill shrieking of bones fashioned into fearful goblin war-pipes.
The men were nervous. The horses whinnied in fear and stamped. Still, they were war-bred and did not bolt. Markos was nervous, too. He knew why Orsog had chosen this valley, and why Nikephoros had signed off on it. There were no trees for their foes to hide behind here, and the Asentic legions would have the high ground. On the backs of swift horses, they could match the enemy for speed, and outmatch them in sheer, crushing force. Yes, the wide valley should have filled the scar-faced fighter with confidence—if it were not for the fact that they were trapped.
“There are too many,” Patros said.
“Orsog is taking care of it,” Markos growled.
“He’d better do it quick, or they’ll pull us from our saddles.”
Patros spoke from experience. He had lost men on the raid that drew the goblins here, and that was with surprise on his side.
“Then we’ll crush what we can on our way down.” Markos turned to the rest of the men and began shouting. “Listen close, you dogs! Charge hard! Run them down! Cleave their heads! But by Thrasios, regroup with your standard! If we don’t carve together, they’ll take us all apart!’
Swords were loosened, stirrups checked, lance butts ground nervously into the earth on which they rested. Some men had tall rods tied to their backs, strips of red fluttering in the breeze from their tops, the standards of their companies. These tactics were new, but the men were all experienced. Markos sent up a silent prayer to Thrasios, and whatever other gods were listening, that experience would be enough. And, heaven help them, that Orsog would act quickly.
There was no subtlety to the pounding steps of the sprinting outlander, guttering torch held aloft as he fled the pursuing horde of cackling goblins. He darted into a passage that led away from the great subterranean chamber in which he had found the goblins’ paper effigies, and almost immediately hit a wall. He turned left and continued running, silently cursing with the knowledge that the upper world lay in the other direction. But so did his pursuers.
“Lapube!” shouted one voice in the cacophony. The cry was taken up. “Lapube! Lapube!”
“Devil take Lapube!” Orsog snarled, turning right to race down another side passage. This one was long and lined with glittering crystal. In the reflected and refracted torchlight, he thought he saw an opening at the far end. An opening with a door. His pace quickened.
As the horde of skittering devils rushed into the space behind him, he heard them begin shouting, “Eb-glon-mon! Eb-glon-mon!”
They were gaining on him, nearly at his heels before he reached the doorway. He had the torch in one hand and the sack of paper goblins in the other. He would have dropped one to bar the door, but he didn’t have time. He flung the sack into the room as he approached it, drew his sword, and turned in the doorway to thrust the lit torch in the face of his nearest pursuer. As it fell shrieking back into the mass of its companions, the next one’s forehead was cleft by the blade.
“Retz!” Orsog shouted. “Madanz dazhar lamon-mon kwa dava bram!”
The threat, or else the sound of goblin words issuing from a human mouth, gave them pause. They were naked, he saw, and unarmed. He was nearly three times the size of any one of them, armed with flame and steel, with a narrow gap he might defend against an army, if he had another man or two. But as the outlander looked, he saw in the goblin’s eyes something he had not expected, something far too human for hellspawn such as these.
He saw desperation.
They surged forward, claw and fang flashing in the torchlight.
To Be Continued…