Chapter 6. I meet a wizard and kill him.
The small stone totems – about the child’s height — marking the village perimeters had no faces, but were inscribed exactly as was the largest stone totem in the village center:
There is no king.
There is no queen.
There is no hope.
There is no hero.
The village lay in smoky ruins. An occasional Elf body was intermixed among much more numerous and arrow-riddled Goblin corpses.
I had thought the Elven lancers a probe for some attack yet to come. But perhaps they were merely remnants of a foray already completed.
In horror and fear, the remaining Goblin stragglers – mostly children and old women — came together in a single group. The child and I were near the center of this reluctant pack as we approached the stone totem where, recently, I had watched Lord Elwyn die.
The village square held a raised platform, composed of broken wagons and barrels leaning at odd angles against and partially supported by the base of a stone totem. On this platform was a blue-robed Human with a crooked nose and a crooked staff of dark wood. Some sort of exotic hawk perched on the tip of his staff.
“Goblins!” said the wizard. “Gather!”
The headstrong child once again pulled away and, for the moment, lost himself among others. I had little fear of failing to recapture him, however. There was nowhere else to go.
“Berlyne of Bastwick,” said the sword.
“Is this battle knowledge?” I posed the sword. “Are you going to kill something?”
“Not immediately. But there is a threat: The wizard’s ring. It is an ancient seeing ring, given to Berlyne by a mystical personage with powers greater than my own. This ring may well discern, if you wish it, your history.”
“And if I do not wish it?”
“Then another sort of history will be discerned. I am, after all, a practiced storyteller.”
“Goblins!” said Berlyne. “You are safe now. This Elvish attack was for your own benefit, to remove your village from the curse of the mad Elf who recently here died. I, Berlyne of Bastwick, have negotiated a peaceful retreat for you and will monitor your progress to a more agreeable village in a more agreeable land.”
“We shall either stay or make our own way as we see fit,” shouted an elder Goblin.
“Calm, my brothers,” pleaded Berlyne. “Is it not your way, in moments such as these, to share information?”
“Look around!” came the cry. “See the dead and dying! An evil Elf attack led by a duplicitous wizard! The information is clear.”
“Look further!” shouted Berlyne. “Are not your brother Goblins now at your side to ensure your protection and well-being? Am I not alone and without guard? Who other than I shall lead you to safety?”
“Father Twixt shall lead us!” came a voice near the edge of the platform.
Berlyne smiled down at the child. “Is Father Twixt your own father, small creature?”
“”Father’ may be a term of respect as well as heritage,” said the child.
Berlyne turned to inspect the remaining Goblins. “Very well, let this Father Twixt come forth.”
The child pulled me forward.
Several of the Goblins parted to allow me to ascend to the wizard’s platform. Others, the majority, refused to move and snarled at my passing, as any Goblin would when some other made claim to their leadership and control.
I had little interest in the Goblins’ reactions. My attention was commanded by the wizard.
The hawk on Berlyne’s staff leaped and fluttered in the air.
The ring on Berlyne’s hand sparkled and glowed.
This ring leaked a pale yellow light into all peripheries. Inside those peripheries, I could see the stone totem, the platform, Berlyne, and the child at my side.
Outside those peripheries, at the center of my vision, I saw other things.
I saw buried Goblins, faces covered with ash and soot, rising like locusts in spiked and rough-edged armors to engage an Elf army in ambush.
I saw myself stiff and studded with Goblin armor, brown and black, the tarred markings of Chief on my forehead.
I saw Goblin warriors and archers and cavalries riding gaunt hounds, pulling crude cannons on pointed wooden sleds, lighting small, dim fires.
“This story is over,” said the sword.
My left elbow flinched, and the sword rose and slid across Berlyne’s shoulders. Berlyne’s head, his lips pursed as though in a kiss, disappeared. Moments later, this same head bounced once upon the platform and once more into the Goblin crowd.
Berlyne’s body collapsed beneath his blue robe. The circling hawk landed atop the crumpled cloth of the robe and pecked within its folds.
“The ring,” said the sword.
The hawk fluttered backwards as I knelt and sliced off the ring finger of Berlyne’s exposed hand. The hawk nibbled a moment at a long purple fingernail, then gained the ring its beak and took flight.
I watched the hawk’s black silhouette rise above the misguided arcs of sudden Goblin arrows.
“Father Twixt!” cried the Goblins. “Father Twixt!”
A very large Goblin motioned me down from the platform.
“I am Chief,” said the very large Goblin. “Let us speak.”
I followed this Goblin into a ruined chamber of blackened wood and crumbled stone. The child came behind me came carrying a torn and crimson canvas.
“Though magic will be our undoing, magic can also be useful upon occasion,” said the Chief. “I give you information.”
The Goblin Chief pulled a great longsword from the rubble of the broken chamber. Red and green light flowed the length of its blade. Familiar etchings glittered.
“Surely this is what the Elves seek,” said the Goblin. And it did indeed seem the same sword of beauty that Lord Elwyn had lifted above his head two nights previously.
A thick hail of arrows fell around us as the child pulled me down amidst the broken beams and bloody torsos of a previous battle.
The Goblin Chief bellowed and charged back into the square, his stolen longsword held high. He was immediately impaled by three Elf arrows and fell. Lord Elwyn’s sword spun from his grasp, clanging loudly against stone and rock.
Elves screamed. Goblins cried.
I shifted to remove the child’s weight from my back. Off-balance, the tip of my ugly sword bounced off a broken table leg and angled its hilt into my forehead.
Dumbstruck by this blow, I slept.