Chapter 7. I talk to the wizard I killed.
Before, it was late morning. Now, it was late night.
I felt well rested. Had I slept through the day? The Goblin village around me was quiet.
Had anything really happened?
Had I really been a Goblin Chief? Had there really been a Goblin army?
Memories of my confrontation with Berlyne of Bastick seemed at odds with many others, distant and immediate. Yet, unlike those others, these memories seemed real.
I found my sword near my hand.
“To believe a thing, you must disbelieve some other,” said the sword. “It’s only a story.”
“But what constitutes belief if a random story so easily trumps it?”
“Battle constitutes belief,” said the sword. “Now pose your questions to the head.”
The child squatted across from me, whispering to the canvas-clad lump on his lap that, by the light of moon and stars, looked very much like Berlyne’s head. The child made room for me to sit by this head, propped against the half corner of a razed wall.
“I was betrayed by a dastardly ring of Ancient Gods,” said the head. “Do not think you have outwitted Berlyne of Bastwick!”
“I do not think it,” said I.
“The Ugly Sword is useful once and then, once its petty masquerades have been revealed, less useful thereafter.”
“How do you speak? Are you alive?”
“Do you see a heart beat? Do you see a chest heave? No, I am not alive. Are these your questions?”
“The head contains information of value,” said the child. “Our quest animates it. You have three questions to ask.”
“Two more questions,” said the head.
“Three questions of purpose,” said the child. “The magic itself will adjudicate.”
“How do you come to be here in this village, Berlyne of Bastwick?” I asked. “What information do you seek?”
“I seek the same treasure that Elves have failed to find. Had I been allowed to seek this of my own accord, by my own means, I would have it now and be safely removed from your Goblin stench.”
“Yet you managed to lose your arms and legs in your attempt.”
“I was betrayed by a ghoulish ring for reasons beyond your understanding. You too shall be held accountable.”
“Is Lord Elwyn’s longsword the treasure you seek?”
“If I knew the precise form of this treasure, I would not have had to barter my services for such a treacherous ring. But I see this clearly: Your first question is answered. Ask your next.”
“Who is behind the slaughter of this village? Who provided you with information and a ring to set you on your task?”
“Goblins will be destroyed by Humans or Elves or both. This village is insignificant but that Elwyn of Oak, General and Lord of Elf Armies, left his camp in the middle of the night and later died here. Whatever strange magic caused this oddity is well worth pursuing by any who might recognize and claim it.”
“You value this village and Goblins only as their enemy. Perhaps Goblins value their village and their lives more dearly.”
“Dead Goblins value nothing. They are dead – to their great disadvantage. Elves live in their legends and lands, while Humans, with the right alliances and forethought, live forever inside their magics and machines. It is inevitable that Goblins will die.”
“Goblins live and die free.”
“They die free of life,” sneered the head. “And here is the answer to your second question: It was Lady Gwaine who set me on my task. It is Lady Gwaine’s hawk who escaped with the cursed ring. And it is Lady Gwaine who now knows all histories within it. Ask her any further questions regarding her mind and motives. Now ask me your final question.”
I considered this final question. Several mysteries remained. Not least among these was how to escape further pursuit by Elf warriors and Human wizards.
But chief among these mysteries was the most immediate and obvious.
“My plan is to return this child to Lord Elwyn’s family. What is your evaluation of this plan? Will there be willing recipients of this gift?”
“Lord Elwyn has no son, false Goblin.”
“A hidden son, perhaps. One which may not have been widely known.”
“None at all,” said the head.
“Surely a Human wizard would not have such intimate knowledge of Elvish fathers and sons.”
“There will be no willing recipients of this gift,” repeated the head.
The head’s eyelids drooped. Its pallor turned grey.
“Your evaluation of my plan,” I said. “This is part of the question you must answer.”
“You have no plan,” said the head, speaking in a whisper. “Magic is its own master.”
The head closed its eyes.
The child re-wrapped the head in the torn and blood-stained canvas and then, unceremoniously, kicked it into darkness.
“Rubbish to rubbish,” said the child.
“Who – or what — are you?” I asked the child.
Unlike the head of Berlyne of Bastwick, the child did not seem compelled to answer.