Chapter 8. I become a Chief.
Goblins emerged from hiding and appeared at my side. From their scattered conversation, I learned this:
The Elvish attack of the previous morning had been swift and deadly. What few remained of Goblins had either succumbed or fled. After recovering Berlyn’s body and Elwyn’s longsword, the Elf archers had prodded a few inert Goblins (including, I was told, me) for signs of life or resistance and, finding none, withdrawn.
From midday until dusk all had been quiet.
Once night had fallen and I awoke, the remaining Goblins sat and listened in silent audience to my consort with the head. They now informed me of my role.
“You are Chief,” the Goblins told me.
“There is no hero,” I said.
“There is no hero,” repeated the Goblins.
To be Chief among Goblins is a curious role, in peace and in war. First and always, the Goblin Chief is expected to lead by example, not by command.
While Elves are governed by the common and the social or, as they conceive it, Laws of Life, and while Humans are governed by politics and intrigue or, as they conceive it, Laws of Compromise, Goblins are governed only by self or, as they conceive it, the single and indisputable Law of Existence.
In Goblin philosophy, this Law of Existence must supersede all Laws of Life and Compromise, for, is not existence required of life? And, likewise, is not any compromise of existence simply a self-contradictory claim made against it?
What is taboo to the Elf and illegal to the Human is neither to the Goblin. Either something exists, or it does not. And that something that does not exist is, in its lack of existence, insignificant.
Guided by this philosophy, Goblins have some foregone conclusions. For instance, insofar as magic does not exist, it is counter to all that does. Therefore, magic is, in general, insignificant.
For this reason, without regard to usefulness, Goblins tend to distrust all magics, stories, and philosophies that twist what exists into something more beautiful, more believable, or more preferable that does not exist. Since these magics, stories, and philosophies are most commonly embedded in the social and the political, Goblins are resolute anarchists. And, even more so, because everything exists – if it does exist – equally, Goblins are resolute egalitarians.
Yet, there are Goblin Chiefs.
During war, particularly against organized and dangerous opponents, Goblin Chiefs with a belligerent attitude are most likely to be followed and emulated. And, during peace, particularly in forcibly social activities of game or trade, Chiefs are likewise welcomed. Their reign in both contexts, however, is tenuous, and the circumscription of their behaviors — in both contexts — is strict.
Village Chiefs are expected to sleep in the worst bed of their village, and eat the worst food. If they do not, they risk murder or worse. If they do, then they are motivated, as seems reasonable, to make the worst bed comfortable and the worst food edible.
War Chiefs are expected to seek and achieve information of value, in an increasingly aggressive search. To search otherwise – or to fail in that search — is to risk murder or worse.
Therein Goblins, most often in murder, select and acknowledge their Chiefs.
“The Human Wizard believes you have a clever sword,” said a Goblin beside me. “Yet it seems ugly and crude.”
“It resists understanding,” I said.
“Will it serve all equally?”
I placed the sword on the ground. “The information is shared.”
The Goblin picked up the sword. It twisted suddenly in his grip; he mishandled and dropped it. The tip of the blade caught a root and spun its hilt into his ankle. He hopped away on one foot.
Another Goblin took the sword in two hands and slung it downwards onto a toppled bowl of clay. The bowl’s rim splattered into thin shards that embedded themselves in the Goblin’s forearm and forced him to abandon the blade where it lay.
“It seems both crude and cruel,” said the Goblin with bleeding forearms. I replaced the sword at my belt.
“I am an excellent storyteller,” said the sword.
We walked from the village opposite the direction the Elf archers had taken. I thought it best, if possible, to delay direct confrontation in favor of some yet to be realized plan. I had a vague notion of ransoming the Elf child for whatever Goblin freedoms this might buy, but I had no insight as to how I might achieve this as Chief of a motley pack of Goblins who could as easily be run down by lances as abided during negotiations.
The night was clear and chilly but not cold.
Our small Goblin band, older and younger than an army might prefer, had scavenged the village for food prior to our departure. We were thus well provisioned and well buttressed with arrows, bows, and other random weapons taken from fallen comrades and their enemies.
The Elf child walked on my right, swinging a tufted and bearded Elvish dagger. He hummed the same odd melody I had first heard during our encounter with the poachers at the edge of the Brown Vale. He seemed several years older than he did in his appearance then, whether due to my inattention or failed memory.
And to my left was a Chieftainess who, in the starlight, seemed both attractive and practiced with the spear she used as a staff. Her scent drifted before me as I contemplated the many consequences – some of them more favorable than others – of my new circumstances.
Behind us spread the rest of our loose band — less than twenty.
We reached a packet of woods, similar but not so foreboding as the skirts of the Vale. Morning began as I lay to rest. Camp was pitched around me.
I closed my eyes, hoping to dream of Goblin escape.
“I am an excellent storyteller,” said the sword.