Chapter 4. I am told a story.
Three-quarters of the way to the village, I veered from our path and made a simple camp outside the village proper. This was a common enough tactic among Goblins that I thought it unlikely to arouse suspicion. All Goblins are, by nature, uncomfortable sharing company. And, though village trade and commerce were recognized necessities, there were many Goblin villagers who preferred the solitude of low scrubs and sandy rocks at night. This was my preference as well — not merely to avoid needless inquiry but also to ponder the sudden turn of my circumstance. I had been, among Goblins, as similar and care-free as any other. Now I had both charge and desire to more carefully consider my fortune.
What was the true nature of the child conjured in the Vale? And who — or what — was the Banshee who had accompanied the child’s revelation?
And, curiously, why had I been led to a magic sword, and why was its magic revealed to me rather than some other?
By odds, there were likely important connections among these, but I found little strength to concentrate and ponder any at length; and the sword was continual source of interruption.
“Am I not a good sword?”
Despite its appearance and its obvious unwillingness to conform to other Goblins’ hands, the sword was extremely well-balanced in my own.
“You are a good sword.”
“An excellent sword. And a practiced storyteller as well.”
“But if I keep you, I will be unable to return to the Goblin village.”
“Nonsense. You are obviously well practiced with a weapon. With me in your hand, we will kill dozens of Goblins.”
“Lord Elwyn failed to do so.”
“Extenuating circumstances, surely. Or perhaps the result of wielding an inferior sword.”
“Nevertheless, Goblins will not allow anyone to possess such as you. You are highly crafted and clearly magic. Such a form is contrary to Goblin politics and their most fundamental beliefs. All in the village would attack me solely to demonstrate the futility of my hubris.”
“And they would be defeated.”
“No. None can stand alone against many. We must flee, or I must discard you. But this is a decision for morning. Now be silent; I wish to sleep.”
The child beside me was already in dreams. I kept him close against the cold night and closed my eyes.
“Perhaps a story would be of use to soothe and extend your reverie? I am, after all, a practiced storyteller.”
I waved a hand and turned from the sword, which it took as acceptance of its offer. Some parts of its tale I had heard before; other parts I had imagined. I listened to the voice of the sword as though I, like the child, were inside dreams.
Every age has its fairest maiden. In the Ancient Age, among the Family of Willow, the fairest was Meganna. She was single sister to seven Elf brothers, each handsomer than the next, but none so comely nor sweet nor kind as Meganna.
The Family of Willow was great during this Ancient time, and, according to custom, the Family granted each of its sons prowess in some task or trade. The eldest was most skilled of warriors and Protector of the Clan. The next was wisest of traders, and the third was cleverest of dancers. Meganna, too, was given a gift: The art of craft.
As a child, Meganna wove tapestries from vines and grasses of subtle greens and patterned browns that draped and flowed like wave and stream. As a Lady, she crafted for each of her brothers magical helms of stone and leaf, mystical armors of rock and diamond, and miraculous staffs of iron and ivory. Each of her creations was more beautiful than the last, yet none rivaled her own unsurpassed and unparalleled beauty.
As was the custom of the Family of Willow, Meganna was pledged to a member of the Family of Moss and traveled to live within that Family, among their kind. To her eldest brother, Protector of the Clan, Meganna gave a parting gift: A sword so shiny and bright, so measured in grace and angle, so simple and sharp in tip and edge that none could hold it without pleasure, nor wield it without glory. And, in the hand of her eldest brother, this sword, The Beautiful Sword, promised great victories.
Meganna favored and well pleased her new Family, as she did her new mate. And Meganna lived a happy life, according to custom, without much further thought of art or craft.
Yet one day, fair Meganna found her eye turned by a strange crafting among her adopted Family’s kitchenware. A pot intrigued and delighted her.
This pot seemed odd and misshapen in form, yet it was crafted so cleverly that it fit most securely in hand and upon every filling and pouring shifted and merged with the whim of its handler. Its weight was adjusted and its containment was increased or diminished according to its task. So intricate and magical was this pot’s design that it revealed itself only when Meganna recognized it. When she released its handle, the pot again collapsed into its previous, falsely awkward form. For the servants and underclass of the Family of Moss, who had no skill in craft or art equal to Meganna’s, the shape and use of the pot remained crude. Even when Meganna demonstrated and praised the mysteries of the pot to her Family proper, they, like their servants, found the pot’s design unseemly and unpreferred.
“Who made this pot?” asked Meganna of her husband. “I would meet its crafter.”
“It is not a craft of art but a simple work of task,” her husband told her. “The pot was made by a Goblin, as he was commanded to do so.”
“I will meet this Goblin,” said Meganna firmly.
Although her husband and his Family first ruled against this request, Meganna was so insistent that eventually her husband took her below the grassy fields and grounds of the Family of Moss, to the under-tunnels that flushed and swept the Family’s lodgings. Here were cages and chains, according to custom, and here were those kept for the sake of the Family in accordance with Elven ways. Within one of these cages was a old and hobbled Goblin, bereft of both legs, who sat high upon a rocky ledge and worked on oblong clumps of clay and mud that were thrown to his great height by Goblins with scars and disfigurements similar, though not so debilitating, to his own.
“Master Goblin,” said Meganna. “Will you discuss your craft?”
This Goblin, like all creatures, was transfixed by Meganna’s beauty, yet he forced his gaze apart from hers. “I know and fear you, Lady. What would you have of me?”
“This pot,” said Meganna, holding it forward. “Speak of its magic and how you learned its design.”
“There can be no true magic in pots, Lady,” said the Goblin. “I humbly apologize for my flaws.”
“Yet this pot is magical — I would recognize it as so.”
The Goblin did not speak further, nor would he look again in Meganna’s direction.
Thinking to set the creature at ease, Meganna readjusted her position outside the iron cage and forced his attention. “I too have some art of craft, but your manner of design is unknown to me. Please, let us share information.”
At this request, the Goblin raised his head. His eyes filled with pools of tears and his voice shook. “In this place, among these roots and stones, I cannot deny your request, Lady. But I fear my obedience will destroy me.”
Meganna stood resolute and pushed aside the hands of her husband at her waist. “If there is information, let us share it, Master Goblin. There is naught to fear.”
“Lady, each design lives for its own reason and by its own function. Some of these designs, like you, are beautiful and fair. Other designs are less favored by sight and sound and Family. Their voice grates, their visage haunts, their presence threatens. To hide such a design within great beauty is to betray its nature. Though some designs may be unappealing and repulsive, these designs may still serve some worthwhile purpose. Such designs are not evil, Lady. I beg your forbearance.”
“I do not think your pot is evil,” said Meganna with a smile. “I believe your pot serves its purpose.”
“As does your sword?” said the Goblin.
“What sword is that?” said Meganna, again pushing away the arms of her husband at shoulder and waist.
“The Beautiful Sword,” said the Goblin. “Its cut was so clean, its curve was so delicate, that I was charmed and frozen as it swept away both my legs. Whether through desire of your brother or purpose of your sword, I sit now before you, unable to stand and forced to answer your questions and obey your commands. My designs serve you tea, Lady. Yours forces me to do so.”
Meganna stood back from the iron bars and placed the Goblin’s pot at her feet. She turned and left the under-tunnels with her husband, accepting his comfort.
The boy shook me awake.
I had the image of the fair Meganna — called Witch Meganna by Goblinkind and The Enchantress among Humans — burned within, brilliant and clear, but upon my rousing, could recall it no more.
The boy pointed to the horizon where the sun was had lifted above the low mounds leading from the Brown Vale. At each crest of each mound, silhouetted in the daylight behind them, Elves rode with lances. These lancers drove scattered Goblins before them.
“Run!” said I to the boy.
The boy and I gathered our few belongings, and, with the sword at my belt, we fled towards the village.