Chapter 13. I am asked to tell my story.
I was aware of the sword at my side, the ring on my finger.
“Magic is seductive,” said the Goblin Chief who stood over me. “But, upon occasion, useful.”
The Goblin Chief stepped back and allowed me to stand and walk to the front of the Goblin army. Previously countless, these Goblins now seemed few: some with swords, some with bows, some crippled and asleep. Those with swords and bows glowered and shouted in my direction, anxious, it seemed, for me to depart their company.
“Our brothers have dispersed?”
The Goblin Chief winked and nodded. Aided by my ring, I understood this as subterfuge, a slyness of some kind.
“The majority, yes, have been persuaded to leave this place for another. Behold.”
The Goblin Chief gestured to the east where a barren ridge held bright red-and-green pennants and tall standards with metal tips and precisely lined snow-white tents guarded by Elf lancers and armored knights and lanky skirmishers that swelled and dissolved into distant vanishing points on either side.
I saw Lady Gwaine’s hawk perched on a black branch nearby, studying our conversation.
“Why are you still here?” I asked the Goblin Chief. “Why am I?”
“It is though we believe our lives have value,” said the Chief.
I again inspected my surroundings. Only some twelve Goblins now remained; the others had seemingly dissolved, somewhere, beneath soot and ash. Those remaining held weapons ready, bows drawn and pointed in my direction.
“Fear nothing,” said my sword. “I can kill them all.”
“Your sword remains exuberant,” said the Goblin Chief.
“It is consistently optimistic.”
“And an excellent storyteller,” said the Ugly Sword.
“Will you fight?” asked the Goblin Chief.
My ring fully revealed to me the thoughts and plans of this lone Goblin Chief; and, by that ring, I knew the whereabouts of every hidden Goblin and every hidden weapon.
My role in this story was therein set.
“I will parley,” I said.
The Goblin Chief agreed to this plan without objection and helped me atop my horse, the same I had ridden beside the Chieftainess. My arms and legs were bruised from the beating I had taken from the Goblin mob, and I found it difficult to sit easily in the saddle.
My brows and cheeks were painfully swollen and unable to bear the touch of helm. I left leather cap and metal headband and all remaining peripherals of battle at the foot of the Goblin Chief.
The Goblin Chief stood alone in the clearing as I left.
I rode towards the Elf skirmishers; they took little notice of my passing. I was allowed to approach the largest and whitest of the tents, marked with gold and crowned with what my ring told me was the shield and crest of Lord Elwyn. At this tent, Elf lieutenants in bright red-and-green armor inscribed with red-and-green checkerboards and black-and-silver axes reined and controlled my horse.
I dismounted slowly, in respect of my injuries.
“The Lady Gwaine approaches,” said my sword, though I needed no commentary.
Lady Gwaine, once Elf maiden, had passed into that realm between Elf and Goblin called Human. She was elderly and fair, and she seemed both calm and welcoming.
Behind Lady Gwaine walked Elf generals and Human wizards, yet by the ring I knew she would be first and last to speak.
“You have come far, Chief Twixt.”
“I have come to find why you kill Goblins.”
“I kill Goblins because they have no future.”
“Goblins are accustomed to tragedy. They will outlast your schemes.”
“Goblins will outlast my schemes until they are killed. Then they will not.”
“Will you receive Lord Elwyn’s child?”
“You are that child, Chief Twixt. Goblins are that child. Yet you and your Goblins refuse that honor. So, as the Banshee foretold, there is no child. Today, I receive only you.”
“Why would Lord Elwyn sacrifice his life? Why would he not have chosen, as you have chosen, to maim and kill?”
“Perhaps,” said Lady Gwaine, “Lord Elwyn was possessed by a love that persuaded him to do otherwise. Perhaps he was, like the recent Berlyn of Bastwick, true of purpose but false of heart. Or, perhaps you are not the Goblin you believe yourself to be, Chief Twixt. Perhaps you are some other sort.
“But such speculations are of little matter. The truth is that Elves believe their families and their society and their authority should be all families and all societies and all authorities. And the truth is that Goblins would have no family nor society nor authority at all. This, ultimately, is the way of their war — and there is nothing in love or magic that will prevent it.”
“And what is your role in this story, Lady Gwaine? Who is your Master?”
“My realm lies in the sword at your side, the ring on your finger. Humans have affinity with magic, and, through that affinity, Humans have power. A circumstance of this sort is my own — and a similar circumstance could now be yours, should you choose it.”
I drew the Ugly Sword. The Elf knights around Lady Gwaine drew their swords as well.
“Lady Gwaine,” I said. “I ask what benefit you have found in your life. What value does it hold?”
“There is no benefit,” she said.
“I could vastly improve this story,” said my sword.
“Chief Twixt,” said Lady Gwaine. “It is my turn to ask. Review your information carefully. You wish to see truth without magic – yet you wear a magic ring to do so. You wish to control your life – yet you court your death in order to do so. You wish to deny your love – yet you are in love here and now. Where do you stand in this war, Chief Twixt? What is your desire?”
The ring held the Lady’s speech as true. But then that ring, like my sword, was magic — and magic was notoriously untrustworthy.
I slipped off the ring.
In the place of Lady Gwaine, I saw again the Chieftainess, my Chieftainess.
There was neither dishonesty in the Chieftainess’ face, nor deception in her eyes. She neither smiled nor frowned. I considered that this was most likely because she did not exist.
I replaced the ring on my finger.
“You are four paces from Lady Gwaine’s neck,” said the Ugly Sword. “Elvish archers will stop you at three, but a well-timed thrust and throw might still reach her.”
“What say you, Chief Twixt?” said Lady Gwaine.
I held my position. I stood alone and apart.
“I believe Lord Elwyn sought to escape you,” I said to Lady Gwaine. “I believe you stole his child and kept it from him.”
“Very well,” said Lady Gwaine.
The Lady motioned her attendants to bring a chair of knarred wood and bronzed knobs and arms with bunched lilies and legs of horned bark studded and staked with silver-steel finger-roots. And her attendants brought her this chair.
“Chief Twixt,” said Lady Gwaine. “Tell me your story.”