Chapter 3. I find a sword.
Hand in hand, we proceeded back through the Brown Vale, guided only by sunlight that raced to dusk. The conversation with the Banshee, though fleeting, had taken the entire afternoon in the common distortion of time that accompanied all things Faerie.
The child pulled at my hand like some headstrong dog, yet seemed unerringly to choose the quickest path to exit. Therefore, I let the child have our lead — wrongly it turned out, as he pulled and chafed and eventually broke my grasp. Advantaged by his ability to duck under and through thorny bush that I had to negotiate more carefully, and continually failing to heed my call, the child opened a goodly distance between us. I struggled to catch him.
“Twixtamixt!” I yelled, hoping to evoke some magical force upon the child’s wantonness, but the child disappeared inside the muddy twilight.
I broke through the edge of the Vale, in the same direction the child had chosen, at much the same spot I entered earlier at dawn. A torch blurred the landscape directly ahead, illuminating three poachers. Two knelt and held the child between them. The third stood and held the torch.
“Father!” cried the child. “Save me!”
“We are equals, brothers. Explain your claim.”
The Goblin with the torch came forward. His confidence was clue that his party numbered more than three and, indeed, as I inspected the crest of the mounds of refuse left and right, Goblin shadows slid into view.
“You chase this boy from the Vale. Of what value is he?”
“He is my brother as are you. None is more important than any other. Truth is when we stand apart and alone.”
The Goblin snarled and held the torch close to my ear. I could smell its tarry smoke and feel its searing heat.
“We have no reason to disturb you. We return to the village.”
“This is information is unclear.”
The Goblin grabbed my arm and pushed me towards the child. As I suspected, three other Goblins came from the night to stand at my back. The two Goblins holding the child jerked him aside to reveal the hilt of sword half-buried in rubbish and rat bones.
“This child wishes to steal our treasures,” said the Goblin with the torch. “We have prevented him from doing so.”
“As rightly you should. There is no value of anything brought to this place. It has already been tested and scorned. The child will learn from your instruction.”
“You have no desire for anything here?”
Six Goblins now surrounded me. The child in their clutches gleefully babbled a high-pitched song. This song was strange and unknown, yet appealing. I had little chance to dwell upon it.
“Here is the child’s treasure.”
The most talkative Goblin picked up the sword — a crooked and forlorn thing, rusted and cracked, with the color of fog and mist.
“Children often have desire for such ruined things,” said I.
“Do you seek to hide information from us, Brother?”
“I have no knowledge of this sword other than my view of it in your hand.”
“It is not your sword?”
“It is not.”
The Goblin sought to wave the sword in my direction, but it seemed over-weighted at the tip and difficult to point. He dropped it at his feet and had to skip quickly to avoid its oddly angled bounce in his direction.
“I think you might hide information from us, Brother.”
“We shall exchange information freely.”
“You entered the Vale earlier today alone. You exit with a child.”
“Is there no information of value in this contradiction?’
“Perhaps the child wandered into the Vale earlier and I sought and found him only today. Perhaps the child lives within the Vale among tribes of children similar, and I have stolen him as my own. Perhaps the child entered the Vale from some opposite direction, and we met and continued our parallel journey as brothers. There are many possibilities.”
“He calls you Father.”
“A term of affection rather than heritage.”
The Goblin paused. “Do you claim these many likelihoods equal in probability?”
“I make no claim other than this: I entered the Vale earlier today, and I was affected by some magic within. This magic has yet to reveal itself to me, yet it distorts my recollection of cause and effect, motivation and reason. The possibilities I relate are several I must now consider in order to reveal the differences among them.”
“This difference is indeed important. Magic steals our independence and will, Brother. Let us resist its fantasies.”
“This is our desire.”
“Magic ever hides information of value, for information of value will destroy magic.”
“We are of the same mind, Brother.”
“Yet there is an important element of information missing from your account.”
“Why did you enter the Vale this morning?”
“My recollection is that I entered the Vale to profit. I wished to find information of value.”
“Within the Vale? In a place where magic is so ripe and often?”
“Is it not true that, if magic hides information of value, then information of greatest value will be found where the strength of magic to hide that information is equally great?”
The Goblin considered this for a moment and then turned to his brethren. None found the argument unreasonable.
“Very well,” said the Goblin.
“Very well. Now, of what history is this sword? Why do you prevent a child from claiming what is of no use to any other?”
The Goblin cackled. “Several nights ago, Elves, buttressed by magics, raided camps on the outskirts of the village. Several came to this very spot and skirmished with those who would resist their oppressive culture. After that brief battle, this sword was found where it had not been before. Perhaps this sword was unburied by the scuffle; perhaps it was thrown to the ground by one of the miscreant elves. And now this child, a child undeniably accompanied by magic, wanders to it. These are not common incidents.”
“Yet coincidences, though rare, are not of themselves magical.”
“If you will now take the sword in your hand, Brother, I suspect this act will provide some information of value.”
The child’s song, previously soft and untoward, rose briefly, then fell silent.
I picked up the sword.
“Well done, Father Twixt,” said the sword at my touch. “Shall we kill them all?”
“Do you have any further information of value?” said the Goblin, obviously oblivious to the voice of the sword.
“None that can be explained by anything other than the falseness of magic,” I replied.
“Then take the wretched sword and be done with it.”
The Goblins released the child and he came, smiling and docile, to my side.
I pointed us towards the village, but was stopped by a Goblin’s torch barring the way.
“I choose to let you live,” said the Goblin holding the torch.
“Choice is important,” said I. “Without magic, and only without magic, can there be choice.”
“Know this,” said the Goblin. “You are in the midst of magic. The sword and the child are no coincidence.”
“There is that possibility,” said I.
“Magic is tempting,” said the Goblin. “Perhaps you will succumb to its temptations.”
“Yes,” said I. “That is true of us all. We must guard against it.”
“There is no hero,” said the Goblin.
“There is no hero,” I repeated.
The Goblins stepped back. The child and I walked from the edge of the Brown Vale along the poorly marked trails and random posts of stone towards the Goblin village.