“Who do you think you are!” The screech cut through the night like a knife. Startled they stepped back from one another.
“I know who you are!” Again, the high pitched jagged voice, each word an assault to their ears.
“Who do you think you are!”
Tipper pointed. In Marsi’s glow they could see a gangly person at the edge of the field, not far from where they had made their camp. It screeched again, “What do you think you are doing!”
Mokha waved, “Hello. Nice night.”
The man, woman? The thing screamed, mad with rage. “Who do you think you are!”
It started forward, long limbs and wispy hair, “I know who you are!”
It rushed in towards them, Tipper moved quickly to the left, Mokha jumped to the right. Adwin was bowled over by the hag, the thing, it dragged him to the ground. Then it was on top of him, its putrid breath made him gag, its long fingered hands clawing at his face and neck. He punched it a number of times, but it screeched and raged and wrapped a gnarly hand around his throat.
Adwin grabbed its wrist and tried to twist away. He heard Mokha shouting, but could not make out what he was saying. He kneed the creature in the back, nothing he tried seemed to be working. The thing’s hand tightened around his throat.
He flailed with a fist and tried to yank the crushing hand away from his throat, he twisted and tried to buck the hag off of him. His vision began to narrow, his strength was ebbing away. Then the creature screamed in pain and let go of him.
Tipper shouted and slammed into the creature, brought her hatchet down, cutting deep into its shoulder, more blood splatter. Then Tipper had the thing by the hair, dragging its head back and slamming her hatchet into the side of its neck. It flailed and kicked, Adwin rolled away, gasping.
Mokha shouted, “Get back!”
Adwin rolled further away and a wave of fire erupted from Mokha’s hands and engulfed the hag. The nearby grass and flowers started to burn, the creature rose to its feet screaming and flailing, the flames crackling across its hard flesh.
It turned and would have run but Tipper’s hatchet thudded into its skull, staggering it. Mokha stepped forward, flames still bursting out from his hands. The creature dropped to its knees and piteously screamed one lost time. “I know…!”
The whoosh of fire from Mokha suddenly stopped, leaving the quieter crackle of burning flesh and grass.
“By the Gods.” Adwin croaked.
“We need to stop the fire from spreading.” Tipper said.
“I’ve got it.” Mokha gestured and the burning grass was extinguished, except where the creature was in contact with it. The smell was rank.
Tipper came to Adwin and knelt beside him, “Are you alright?”
She inspected the scratches, his throat. “It looks like its not too bad, but I’m worried about infection.”
Mokha looked down at him from over Tippers shoulder. “What was that? A troll?”
“I think not. More like a human, twisted and foul. Corrupted by the fey perhaps.”
“It really wrecked the mood.” Adwin croaked, the other two chuckled still hovering above him with worried expressions.
“Help me get him to the camp.”
Together they helped him move back to the camp. Tipper rooted through her sack and Mokha saw to the fire. With boiling water and her available medicines Tipper cleaned his wounds. He was asleep before she finished the task. Maybe it was the tea she made him drink?
Adwin opened his eyes to strange surroundings. A well lit wooden house, he was a bit taken aback by the scale of furniture and odd tools, he marvelled at the clear glass in the ceiling above him, etched with a complicated pattern. He though he should be panicking, as he had no memory of how he came to this place, yet he felt calm.
Even when a brightly clad goblin leaned over him and chirruped at him he was surprisingly calm. Its eyes were huge, double eyelids blinked. Its nose was pug and fleshy, more properly belonging on a bat. It smiled at him with a big mouth, full of tiny sharp teeth. It had a swampy smell about it, damp earth and frogs.
“Have you seen Tipper?”
It trilled something back to him.
“Sorry, I don’t speak goblin.”
It went away. Adwin really wished he could sit up, but he was so comfortable.
The first goblin came back with another goblin, also brightly clad with some sort of fancy hat on. They chirped and whistled at each other. Adwin decided the second one was older, it was a bit taller that the first and its skin was more muted in its greens and moulted greys. There were a lot of feathers in their clothing and jewellery, some of them very bright. The younger, or at least shorter, one went away again. The second remained standing over him, waving a three fingered, clawed hand over his head and chest and making strange noises with it’s throat.
Suddenly it said, in plain Andalee, “You should be able to understand me?”
Startled, Adwin nodded.
“Do you understand?”
“Yes, I can.” He said it slowly.
“Your friends are nearby and I have cured you of the witch’s poison. You will live.”
“Thank you? I mean, thank you.” He was pretty sure he was dreaming by this point. Now if he could only get up.
The first goblin reappeared chirruping away and he was able to understand her as well. Then Tipper, Mokha and a half dozen more goblins crowded in around him, where he lay on a cot. His friends seemed really large next to the goblins and they had to watch their heads and ducked going through the door frame. Everyone seemed really happy.
“Hey, glad you pulled through. The Historians saved your life.” Tipper said.
Mokha said, “All our new friends think you’re a hero?”
“For defeating the bog witch.”
“Which bog? Guys I’m really confused right now. Should I be panicking?”
Tipper and the goblins all laughed, Mokha just looked concerned, “You okay?”
“I feel okay, but I think I’m dreaming. I can’t wake up or move.”
“Ah, the drugs are still affecting you. Here, let me help. They have some really nice drugs here, potent.” He propped Adwin up so he could sit.
The goblin with the strange hat looked him over again and told the yfirst goblin to get him some tea. Tipper sat down on the cot opposite the end Adwin was occupying. She looked at him for a while, the goblins also silently watched him, Mokha was fiddling with a pipe Adwin had not seen before. The silence went on for a bit. Then Adwin slowly reached up and touched his face, he could feel a couple long scabs, dry and flaky on his left cheek, another across his brow, two or three on either side of his throat. The goblins all started speaking at once.
“Good.”, “Nice.”, “He did it.”, and other statements which seemed out of place in the context. When the younger goblin returned with the tea in a brightly decorated cup she passed it to the goblin with the hat.
The hat goblin took the cup, passed her other hand over it three times and then held it so Adwin could drink. He did so. Within moments he felt a tingling sensation flow through his body and the lethargic feeling passed. He thanked the older goblin.
“It is we of the Heart-Tree-Valley, town of goblin-folk, that owe you thanks. You saved us from the witch. After three, nearly four generations of our people, we are no longer bound to the will of that twisted creature. You broke the geas and this river-valley-tree returns to the living land. We will walk freely again and go to the places of other goblins to see the goings and the comings of other goblin-folk. Walk the night freely as all goblins do.”
“Um, well. Glad I could help.” He looked to Tipper, she gave a smile and slight shrug.
“We are glad too. You, friend of goblin. We make mark-of-telling and give you many things-of-thanks. If you had been goblin, we would have married you with our most eligible breeding-women. Given you a nice house and the best spears.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
“Now how are you called by your people?”
“My name? Adwin.”
“Good-good. You rest and eat and be with friends. My house is your house for as long you have the need. No we go.” She turned and gestured and chirruped the other goblins from the house.
Mokha lit his pipe and took a couple of puffs. “This is really the only house in the town that we can fit comfortably through the door.”
“How long was I unconscious?”
Tipper answered, “Only three days, but the Historians are very adapt healers and the world tree helps with that sort of thing.”
“You keep saying historians?”
“The eldest female goblin is usually the historian for a given population. Larger places may have more than one, this place, though not really a large population, has three with others in training. The goblins here are really long lived, seemingly because of the world tree, or heart tree as they call it.”
“How long do goblin’s usually live?”
“Thirty is considered old, they reach adulthood around ten.”
Mokha blew a smoke ring, “The one with the hat is over one hundred years old, and there are a few others that age here. Dozens of them upwards of ninety, a couple hundred in the sixty range and upwards of a thousand under thirty.”
“Over a thousand goblins? That seems like a lot.”
“Despite their enslavement to the witch, they have been protected. I think they are bound to the tree. The heart trees are reported to do odd things to those who spend much time around them.” Tipper said.
“Hugh. Alright. So why do they think I killed the witch?”
“Well, they know we were all involved, but your have the wounds. You fought her with tooth and claw, as they would say.”
“Okay. Seems a bit arbitrary. I would have died if you two hadn’t saved me.”
“Be that as it may be,” Mokha said, “you are their hero. We’re just your faithful companions. You should enjoy it.”
“Will they let us leave?”
“Certainly, in fact, after the ceremony they intend to ride-out with us when we depart.”
“It’s a big celebration in honour of you and their newly found freedom.”
“And when you say ride-out with us, does that mean they intend to go to GreensBridge with us?”
Tipper shrugged, “Some of them are going to GreensBridge, most will go to other places where they once had contacts with other goblin communities. After a hundred years of isolation they want to know what is going on in the wider world. I told them what I could, but much of what they asked I did not know.”
“So why go to GreensBridge? Are there goblins there?”
“Certainly, many thousands.”
“Yes, and dwarves too, though less of them I would think.”
“So goblins and humans living together. I never would have expected that.”
“Its not a new thing, it has been that way throughout history. Not all goblins are primitive, baby eating savages. These goblin-folk follow the old ways, as my people do. They are very civil.”
“Could I get one of you to show me where the out-house is? I really need to relieve myself.”
Mokha, chuckled, “Of course my friend, they made a spot just for us, more appropriate to our size and weight. I nearly killed myself during the first day trying to use a goblin sized shitter. It broke apart and I nearly fell.”