Chapter 12. I wake.
Without pause, it was all like it was before. I sat at a long table, candelabras above, Elves around. I held a goblet of red-honey wine. The Chieftainess touched my hand.
“You are happy now,” she said.
“I am not,” I said.
“You are surrounded by nephews and cousins, stories and drama. There is nothing you can wish that will not happen. There is nothing you can do that will be discouraged.”
“I am Goblin and orphan.”
“Wish yourself a family. Wish yourself love.”
“If we wish something false, then is not this wish our Master?”
The Chieftainess showed me her hand. On the middle finger of that hand was the ring of Berlyne of Bastwick, severed from its wearer by the Ugly Sword, retrieved by a talking hawk that returned without it, and once possessed by the spirit of a Lady yet unseen.
“Whoever wears this ring sees the truth of others. Would you take such a ring from your betrothed?”
“Perhaps this ring would show less than you wish.”
“If it provides information, a Goblin would have it.”
“You would risk what you see and hear and feel? You would risk your life?”
I looked through the Chieftainess’ eyes, and I saw the forest and the night beyond the Great Hall, the stars and the sky above the ceiling.
Something moved inside that dark. Something was coming.
“If what I see and hear and feel is magic, then I would risk it. It remains unclear, however, how a ring of magic such as this one would allow me to see any truth beyond its own.”
“These are the sorts of conundrums that do not go away,” said the Chieftainess. “Chief Twixt, do you wish my ring?
I considered. “I wish it.”
“Truth is a wish too easily granted,” said the Chieftainess. She removed her ring and placed it in on my finger.
Light from the candelabras fell in streaks of yellow that were arrows that buried themselves in the wooden table.
A dancing Elf was struck by a Goblin arrow, then another, then three.
Goblin arrows fell through the false roof of the Great Hall and the false mahogany of the false table of the false Elves.
Music was screaming. Wine was blood.
Fire and flame.
Fire, fire, fire.
An arrow slid into the left eye of the Chieftainess. Flames swept through the hair of the Chieftainess.
Goblins were at my arms, carrying me out of the Faerie circle, into the protective shadows of the Great Forest.
“Chief Twixt,” they said. “You are rescued.”
I unclenched my fist. The ring remained on my finger.
A hut of logs and mud lay burning in the middle of a starlit glade. Goblin arrows, shafts aflame, arced and descended into the rubble of this hut.
“Where is the Banshee?”
“We saw no such demon.”
“Where is the Goblin with one leg of wood and another of stone?”
“We saw no such Goblin.”
I turned away from the glade, into the depths of the forest, where long Goblin shadows of me and my companions stretched and flickered.
“Burn it,” I said. “Burn it all.”
The forest burned three nights and three days, clearing a giant swath of brown and grey that stretched across three horizons and up to the foot of the rambling hills and deserts that marked the beginning of Goblin lands. For three days and three nights, the sky was filled with smoke and soot and painted Goblin faces black.
Aided by my new ring, I directed the wind and the fire left and right and forwards until it found and enveloped two further Faerie circles, each with a rough mud hut at its center.
There were no Banshees in these circles to befuddle and seduce. There were no Goblin Chieftainesses to turn the attention of Goblin Chiefs from fire and destruction. There was no resistance of any kind from Elf or Faerie or Human or any other — though I felt certain each of these were now somewhere watching.
After three days and three nights, rumors came that the main Elf army had turned and marched in force toward our position. That position was no longer hidden. Thousands of Goblins stood revealed without mystery or protection amidst the charred stumps and blackened limbs of ruined woods.
Chief Grog and Chief Muest and Chief Tork, and many, many other Goblin Chiefs — with names and without — gathered around me in consultation.
“Shall we run, or shall we fight, Chief Twixt?” asked my fellows.
I looked upon this ragged gathering of Goblins and wolves and stray and wounded dogs and broken horses. Each looked like the other in some way or another, and each possessed in some part the features and walk and cries of Lord Elwyn’s cursed and wayward child. That waif was now so thoroughly dissolved among these creatures that I doubted he existed any other way.
“Fight,” I said.
“If so, then so,” said the Goblin Chiefs. “Still, there little to gain from unreasonable battle. Despite our numbers, we remain few Goblins against many Elves.”
“Fight,” I said.
“There is no hero,” they said.
“There is no hero,” I agreed. “Fight.”
My fellow Goblins moved glumly away. And then, as the Elf army drew nigh, they returned.
“You have provided us with valuable information, Chief Twixt,” said the Chiefs and the warriors and the archers they brought with them.
“I am more than willing to share,” I said.
“This is uncertain. Perhaps you have been seduced by a romantic ideal.”
“Unlikely,” I said.
“Perhaps you pine in despair for your lost Chieftainess.”
“This is but one of several possibilities. I would argue otherwise.”
“You pine for your Chieftainess, and you commit wanton destruction in her behalf. You refuse to accept the favors of alternative Chieftainesses. You wear a magic ring as a token of lost affection….”
I sought to interrupt these far-fetched and hateful accusations, but already Goblin warrior hands were at my throat and Goblin arrowheads were pointed at my eyes, restricting the use of these in my defense.
“You wield a magic sword that can be wielded by no other. You speak with spirits only you can see. You think thoughts and make plans that transcend all but your own. Chief Twixt, you have adopted a romantic ideal.”
“This is a possible conclusion,” I said, managing to speak from beneath the spike-gloved gauntlets of my captors. “But there are others.”
“Release your sword.”
Pushed forward and to my knees, I unbuckled by sword and gave it freely.
“Release your ring.”
I slipped the ring from my finger and tossed it into the mob.
“Release your romantic ideal, Chief Twixt.”
“I have no romantic ideal,” I said.
“How do you come to such a realization?”
“As all Goblins do,” I said. “From information available.”
“Do you regret your circumstances?”
“As all Goblins do. I regret my circumstances.”
“There is no hero,” said the mob.
“There is no hero,” I repeated.
The Goblin mob fell upon me.
I fought hard, as it was necessary to do, in order to demonstrate that one – even one such as I – could not stand against many, however weak, however ignorant, however helpless these many might be.
Without the benefit of weapon or magic, my despair managed to keep me standing against ten Goblins, then twenty. Beyond that number – and, quickly, there were Goblins far beyond that number – I fell.
“There is no hero,” said the mob.
I tried to mouth these words in repetition and agreement, but I had neither breath nor consciousness to do so.