Chapter 10. I am happy.
The next portion of my confounded journey — surely no more than two weeks, maybe three — passed as though I were entombed and buried. A heavy mist enshrouded all that was harsh and turned perception and awareness into dreamy reverie.
The Chieftainess and I rode dark black mounts at the head of a band of irregular Goblin militia who, in their age and disposition, increasingly resembled Lord Elwyn’s child. This orphaned creature, child no longer, walked as lieutenant among the Goblin stragglers who, with stolen Elf weapons and the ferocious self-assurance of their kind, harassed and raided any who pursued us.
Pursuit, however, was slight.
The main body of the Elf force continue to raze Goblin villages elsewhere. Only scouting Elvish cavalries and their errant escorts wandered into our path. These were quickly dispatched by the more practiced Goblin blades and warriors who flocked to our cause.
I aimed our rapidly growing Goblin army five degrees further to the east each morning, describing a gentle arc that intersected Goblin plains and Elvish woods, until we were placed between the Elf invasion to the west and the deeply forested valleys of its origin.
I had no goal for this strategy. It simply seemed the easiest path to follow and the path least likely to confront death and defeat. For, as we drove deeper into the thick woods of the Great Forest, our disorganization was increasingly less apparent and therein less disadvantageous. Among the heavy foliage, bulky limbs, and tightly gathered elms and oaks, there was little room to maneuver and cast the pointed weight of armor and cavalry against an individual and isolated opponent.
Within these dense woods, the Chieftainess and I dismounted and led our steeds as beasts of burden rather than war. Lady Gwaine’s hawk was likewise forced to descend, its spying made useless by a thick canopy of green. This hawk adopted a silent perch atop the padded saddle of the Chieftainess’s horse, and cupped and coiled its head in slumber, and did not fly away.
I had little conversation with the Ugly Sword; the Chieftainess and I were most often in each other’s close company, day and night, and I greatly favored her touch and smile over the sword’s storytelling.
The demands of my role as Chief in these circumstances were few. These duties were accomplished with little effort and with begrudging respect, even deference, from all following Goblins. Under such favor, with the Chieftainess at my side, I found the extinction of all Goblins mattered little. I had neither undue concerns nor thoughts on any peripheral matter — other than an occasionally sudden and reluctant recall of the still unresolved identity of Lady Gwaine.
It remained unclear – perhaps irresolvable – as to whether some spirit like that of Lady Gwaine had possessed the Chieftainess. In the speculation of such a strange thing, I had little recourse to fact. Either all that I had seen and heard was true, and I had no explanation for it – or all that I had seen and heard was false, and I was befuddled.
Whichever was true – madness or magic — I did feel and believe that there was something like magic in my exchange with the Chieftainess: a deep and indescribable visceral pleasure in her willing companionship.
Was I in love?
Perhaps, I thought, I was happy.
“Am I happy?” I asked the Chieftainess.
“When you smile, it seems so,” she said.
I felt my face. “Do I smile?”
“I think you are most handsome when you do not,” said the Cheiftainess, taking my hand in her own. “You are most handsome when you are most serious: A Goblin Chief of Renown.”
“And I please you as this Chief?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the Chieftainess.
“And only as this Chief?”
“I know you as no other.”
And, in truth, I knew this creature before me as no other than Chieftainess. It was a sobering thought: to consider that the entirety of your life had no value other than that provided by a single brief — and false — role you played by chance.
Some said – I had heard them say it – that it was only at the precise moment of your death that mysteries were revealed and the meaning of your life made clear. But, for all those close to death I had questioned concerning this – Lord Elwyn most recently among them –- death merely seemed to reveal the futility of all subsequent revelations.
It was dark, far past time to camp. I dropped the reins of my horse, let it linger in the press of limbs and leaves and, still holding the hand of the Chieftainess, slid silently past bough and vine.
I remained quiet. I did not breathe deeply. I heard no other Goblin nearby. The Chieftainess followed my lead and kept close and silent by my side.
If we were to walk through the night, the Goblin army might camp behind us. They might never notice our exit. The woods might conceal our path.
We might escape.
But every branch poked and pushed against our shoulders and thighs. Every twig was sharp and pointed. Every shadow hid yet another clinging and tangling root, another necessity for detour. I turned and knifed my way through this maze as it flowed in frenzied growth around me and kept me, amidst that growth, motionless.
At less than a hundred paces, the trunks of the trees parted, and the Chieftainess and I stepped onto the grass-covered carpet of a starlit glade.
The brightest stars above us moved and whirled and descended, gliding into our faces and eyes. Lights danced into the hair of the Chieftainess, fell down her breasts, spiraled down her thighs, and sparkled at her feet. These lights carried us like an ice slide forward, down.
With the distortion of time that came with all things Faerie, sounds and sensations faded and dimmed, as though from distance.
“A Faerie Circle,” said I. And, though I said this loudly, it sounded a whisper.
Red-capped sprites tugged at our boots and hands. They gestured and pointed us towards a raised mound at the center of the circle.
An oval doorway of mud and stick led into this mound. Cool breezes flowed from this doorway, smelling of rain and spice and malt and wine. My hand fell to my sword: hard, cold, inert.
Lady Gwaine’s hawk fluttered past us and flew through the door.
I turned back, towards the safety of the Great Forest. The Chieftainess was unwilling to turn with me. I gathered her waist, but her attention was caught by another, with us now inside the glade, beneath the mound, within the door.
“Tell me again the name of your magic,” said the Banshee. “Is it Corcorallum?”
I shook my head and watched the Banshee bow to the Chieftainess.
“Is it Beezle?”
The Chieftainess bowed in return. She was led through the door in promenade by the Banshee.
“Twixtamixt,” I said.
“Twixtamixt,” said the Banshee. “Ah, yes. Now I remember. Come inside with us, Father Twixt.”
Not wishing to leave the Chieftainess, I followed the Banshee inside.