The dirk felt like a fifth appendage, a natural growth out of Grimlor’s malice for all non-goblin kind. Each of his companions scouting alongside had the same composed look as they strode through the countryside. They wore their armor like a crab wore it shell, one of natural defense; their legs struck at the ground like a hyena’s stalking wounded prey, and their eyes focused ahead like a vulture’s, scanning the fields for anything that could be food or harm them. For too long the goblins remained in hiding. For too long Grimlor listened to the elders’ spin tales of their ancestors fighting alongside their former master, conquering most of the free world. For too long, Grimlor sat while his body jittered in anticipation of the one day the goblins would rise again, while the fear of their reification never coming to pass drove his kin mad. The day had indeed come—no one could say for sure the precise moment—yet an urge to conquest, an urge seize the sun had awoken inside … from where or whom … they could not be sure.
“Grimlor, Bezdir, anything to the west?” Their captain asked.
Grimlor’s eyes scanned, the dried vegetation and the pale sun choking the life out of them were the only things to be seen.
“Nothing.” Grimlor replied without looking back. “Nothing since camp.”
“Ahhh! You’re not looking hard enough.” The captain barked back, more out of frustration than disbelief. “Sauy, Eshda, anything your way?”
They gave the same answer as Grimlor, much to the captain’s dismay. They’d walked over five miles from camp by Grimlor’s count, more than enough to establish a safe perimeter. Knowing his captain, they would continue until they found something to puncture or until the purple dusk made it purblind.
“Press on, lads! We only stop until when we find something.” Grimlor’s intuition about his superior rang true.
He of course didn’t mind a bit, he preferred to march and seek out something to plug rather than sit around at camp boiling skinned rodents as a repulsive excuse for stew. Although, a two thousand goblin camp out in the open, underneath the sky, was better than the choking of two hundred thousand crammed below the mountain like it had been before the awakening. Six months out in the wild seemed to clear his mind and caused all manner of questions to bubble to the surface. Why did they stay hidden for thousands of years? Why didn’t they move when the space became too small and even infants were forced to share their cribs? For millennia it made sense for them to remain hidden from the world and its other races, then, one day, it changed for good. Whispers of their former master rising were the first of the rumors. These were quashed as he had died so long ago and no evidence of a return existed. However, these few persisted in their revelations of the stirrings in the north, the aftershocks of which had shaken goblinkind out of their slumber. Grimlor was willing to believe all the canards or none of them, either way he wanted onto the surface to reclaim their rightful place.
“Down you fools!” Eshda yelled as he dropped into the tall grass. Grimlor and the others crawled over to his position.
“What did you see?” the captain asked.
“Seven men or so below the berm, near the rock face. I only got a quick look, but I don’t think they’re knights.”
The captain poked his head above the vegetation and inspected for himself. Coming back down slowly, he turned to Grimlor and the others. “Six there be, no knights, only three swords among them, and each have a horse.”
“Shall I stick them?” Bezdir smiled as he notched an arrow.
“No.” Grimlor said calmly. “We’re downwind of our prey with a strong gale in our face that shows no signs of relenting. Arrows will falter where swords will succeed.”
Bezdir growled, exposing his fangs, veins of green filth running through them. “Shut your hole! Only the captain gives orders!”
The captain’s arm flew up faster than the eye could see as Bezdir’s head shot back and blood drizzled out of his nose immediately. “Silence! Grimlor’s reasoning is sound. No arrows. We attack from the sides. Besides, you aint that good a shot anyway.”
Bezdir scowled at Grimlor as he wiped the blood from his nose. They crawled to the edge of the long grass, twenty yards from their targets. The men were dressed in their typical ostentatious garb that drooped off their dainty bodies. These were no soldiers indeed, they were schemers and bureaucrats, all the same, Grimlor thought. Their effeminate gestures made him chuckle and feel sick at the same time. How could men such as these conquer goblins and rule the outside world for millennia? They had soldiers of course, but even they were weak and fragile in his mind. Their deaths would ease the pain of the goblin defeat so long ago. He unsheathed his sword with the subtle sound of metal caressing scabbard and brought it to his chest.
“Now!” The captain ordered.
They sprung out of the grass and ambushed the startled men. Grimlor reached them first and stuck the fattest one in his rotund gut, blood spewing forth as if all of the man’s supply was stored in there. One of the men threw off his coverings and reveled an imposing blade, which he slashed Ezhda across the face with—taking half of it and his life. The other men dropped in seconds and it became four to one odds against the only fighter amongst them. This final opponent held the blade like a trained warrior in a pair of ropey arms that flexed impressively as he pointed it at them.
“Attack together,” said Grimlor.
“He’s mine!” Bezdir countered and sprinted toward the lone swordsman.
The man side stepped a viciously wild hack and delivered a sweeping uppercut, lopping off Bezdir’s head just above the jawbone. Oh well, thought Grimlor, never liked him anyway. They still had the odds, but any more foolish maneuvers or renegade attacks and it would dwindle. The three of them spread out wide, without having to communicate it, they surrounded him; Grimlor was to the right, the captain in the middle, leaving Sauy to the left. They encroached with weapons drawn, trying to bait the man out of his defensive stance into an unbalanced attack. This man had patience though, he kept his sword reared back and only his eyes moved under black brows, following each of them for a split second apiece. The man was no fool, he could not be riled, Grimlor knew it would take a precise assault to take him down.
All three of them rushed at the same time. The man launched to his right and cleaved off Sauy’s sword hand with a strike and the back of his skull on the return. The captain bull-rushed and skewered what was left of Sauy as the man tossed the limp body between them. Seeing the man’s fondness for high, powerful strikes, Grimlor brought his sword above his head and the man followed, and as quick as rain, dropped it down and sliced the inside of his enemy’s right thigh. The man’s knee wobbled as he collapsed to the ground. Grimlor kicked the sword away and brought his own to the throat.
“Any last words?” Grimlor smirked.
The man remained stone-faced as his grey eyes hardened on the goblin. “Well played.”
Grimlor reared back and left nothing above the man’s shoulders. Taking a breath, he watched the enemy’s body topple over and sheathed his sword.
“Come help me here.” The Captain barked as he tried to remove his spear from Sauy’s back.
One quick and hard thrust back with both pulling did the trick. They wasted no time and searched all the bodies, including their kin’s, for anything of value. His compatriots had nothing but dull blades and a few polished bones shaped like animals of various sorts. Turning over the last man, an amber beaker, attached to his hip, glinted in the sunlight. He ripped it off, along with the belt it was fastened to and tucked it in his own belt.
They said no words for any of the dead and didn’t even try to scare of the crows as they started to pick at the bodies. There wasn’t much loot, so they made good time back to camp, well before the sun set.
The perfume of the men wore off as they walked and it dissipated entirely when the familiar scent of feces and sweaty mud of their camp overpowered all. Tussles of five or six goblins choking each other out on the ground every twenty feet made their path a meandering one. Wispy fires charred the sides of the flimsy structures built to closes to them. Grimlor shrugged off the children as they reached for imagined trinkets in his pockets and the females who caressed the points of pleasure. The urge to shun them all and barricade himself in his tent had never been stronger, alas, he had a duty to report to their general all that had transpired.
A pair of large goblin guards, a stairstep taller than Grimlor, allowed them entrance into the general’s cathedral tent. Seven others, all officers, surrounded a large flat rock with each country of man, gordel, elve, and dwarf etched on it. The general waived them closer while remaining hunched over staring at the map, trying to figure something out. Grimlor and the captain halted before their superiors and gave a quick kneel.
“My lords,” the captain started. “We lost three scouting today, but took the lives of five men and covered over ten miles without seeing anot—.”
“Stop,” said the general, still working something out on the map. “You say you lost three … how did you lose them?”
The other officers cast curious looks at the captain. Grimlor thought to speak, but knew it would make his superior look weak in the face of questions, so he held.
“We came upon a group of five men ten miles southwest. Some sort of meeting. None were warriors, except one. We sacked them and Sauy, Eshda, and Bezdir all fell to the lone knight.
“I see.” The general finally looked up. His face was sharp as an arrowhead with a pair of black eyes that one could never tell what they focused on, which only added to his cunning nature. “You travelled well beyond your assignment because of boredom and found what you were seeking. However, you failed to plan properly and lost the lives of three warriors against.” He shook his head and sighed. “Five scholars and one knight. Sound correct?”
The captain went to protest but halted when the other officers leaned in like lions preparing to pounce. Instead he looked to Grimlor as if he did not know how to respond.
“My lord,” Grimlor turned to the general and spoke. “We all thought it best to press beyond our assignment until we found someone or when it was clear that nothing remained close enough to harm the camp. The swordsman was a talented warrior and the others disobeyed—.”
“You all disobeyed.” The general silenced him. “It is clear there was no thinking amongst you, which is why I give the orders and you adhere to them.” The other officers chuckled, exposing their sharpened fangs.
Grimlor considered this for a second and realized he had no grounds to defy the general. He remained a low-level soldier and was not privy to the greater plan of this exodus from the mountain squalors. He gave the only answer he could. “Yes, my lord.”
Without provocation, Grimlor removed the amber flask from his belt and presented it to the general. The old goblin made no move toward it, instead one of his officers yanked it away.
“What is this?” The general asked with an uninterested air.
“Something I took off one of the men we killed. I don’t know what it is, but it looks important.”
The officer uncorked and sniffed at the rim. He drew back immediately and slammed the cork back in. “Smells like piss and vinegar. You brought back soured wine as a gift!” The officer shoved the bottle back into Grimlor’s hands.
The other officers burst into laughter as Grimlor’s face heated up. He knew he could end them all right there in the tent, they spent too much time pouring over maps and their hands had grown soft like a man’s. The general raised a hand to put an end to the raucous. “Stick to scouting, young Grimlor, and stick to my orders.” He looked down his nose at both Grimlor and the captain.
Grimlor stayed his anger and stuffed it into the blackness of his gut. “Yes, my lord.” They both replied.
He avoided everything entirely on his way back to his tent at the center of the camp. Throwing the cover over, he finally had the solitude he desired. The anger shimmied up to his chest as visions of beheading the cackling officers made him sneer. Damn fools, he thought while burying each of them in his mind.
His stomach gurgled, but this time not out of hate, but of hunger. He dug down into the dirt a foot at the left end of his fetid tent and removed some food he had wrapped in a cloth—the thievery in the camp made such a measure necessary. Ripping into the dried vermin carcass, he searched for something to wash it down. He cursed himself as his cup was empty and he would have to leave the quiet of his tent to get some at the edge of camp. Instead he looked to the amber bottle. Spoiled or not, it’s better than water.
He kicked back on a pile of clothes and trinkets he had collected from his numerous scouts and tossed another scrap of meat into his mouth. Uncorking the bottle, he raised it as if to cheers and thought of the man he’d killed to get it; a finely combed and trimmed mane with far too much of that pungent perfume men were fond of dabbing on their cheeks. “I’ll enjoy it to the last drop.” He took a swig, the sour liquid felt thicker than any wine he’d ever drank before.
A warm and tingling sensation emanated from his stomach, seeping into every end. His vision blurred as he stumbled back into the pile of trinkets. Either this is some strong wine or it’s … poison! Every muscle in his body tensed, fire traveled up his esophagus, and the tent and all his possessions turned red. No! He keeled into the fetal position as the poison ran its course, stinging from toe to ear. He grabbed his dirk and shoved the handle in his mouth and clamped down. Screaming through clenched teeth, he felt certain parts of his body shrinking and others enlarging, the fire from his stomach engulfed his skin. In a sudden jolt, a cold like ice washed over him. He panted with the dirk still in his mouth and cleared the tears from his eyes. As soon as they were gone and his vision returned to normal, he spit out the weapon at a hideous sight—pale and soft skin covered both his hands. He leapt up and felt his face, a thick beard and soft features had replaced the crook nose and lacquered complexion. Rustling off the boots, a clean foot with five toes flailed where four with talons should have existed. Stripping himself clean of clothes, he realized that they were the garments of the man he slaughtered. Every body part had changed, and if anyone could see him they would have undoubtedly thought he was a man.
Panting into his hands, he searched for the amber bottle. Under his breastplate, the glass glistened like a winking eye of a mischief.
“Damn you! What have you done to me?” He hollered at the lifeless receptacle.
Just then he heard some footsteps near the opening of his tent. He threw his only blanket over, covering every part and tucking himself in the corner.
“You there, Grimlor?” A familiar voice called. “Thought I heard some screaming and was wondering what priddy little thing you had in here.”
“It was nothing! Go away!” His voice muffled by the blanket.
“Oh, come now give us a go at the little thing.”
“Leave me be or I’ll send you away without your innards!”
The goblin made a dismissive remark and shut the tent. Grimlor coiled up, trying to fend off the terror in his heart. Sleep bade the only escape amidst the chaos in his head. He gripped the cover tight as he begged for the night to take him.
A pounding like the ocean’s tide crashed into the sides of his head, rousing him from slumber. The early morning light poked through tiny holes in the tent and blanket. He cradled his head in an attempt to settle the throbbing when he noticed something—both palms had returned to their grated leather feel. Whatever spell the amber bottle contained had lifted as he inspected every part of himself, all was back to normal. As his head cleared, he knew this was something that should be shown to the general himself. Getting dressed in a hurry, he went to take the bottle and paused. Instead he dug a hole three feet down and buried it after pouring a thimble amount in his cup.
The rest of the camp remained sleeping or in a drunken blackout as he made his way to the general’s quarters. A pair of guards halted him before entrance. One held him at bay while the other went inside to check on something, sure enough to see whether the general was indecent or unwilling to accept company. All must have been well as the second guard returned and ushered Grimlor inside.
The general stood much the same way as yesterday, stooped over the map, tinkering with goblin and human figurines closest together amongst the dozens of other sets. Only two of his officers from the previous day stood with him now, both with looks of indignation.
“To what do I owe the honor of your presence on consecutive days?” The general said with as much disdain as Grimlor had ever heard.
He knew he stepped into a precarious situation, the general had flayed others for less than this mild disturbance. His presentation of the facts had to be flawless or at the very least he would be flogged for insubordination. Stopping at the edge of the great map table, he went to speak and both officers fumed as they took in deep breaths, making him pause. No words could convince these misers of such a spectacular power, it could only be shown.
“I have something you must see.” Grimlor downed the cup of potion before they could protest.
It worked fast, the pain less severe than before as it traveled though his system. He controlled the outbursts as best he could to keep the others from reacting violently. The two officers’ expressions grew wide on cockeyed faces as the general continued to ignore him and stare down at the map. It felt like steam exited his body as the process finished. Gasps from the two officers prompted the general to look up at Grimlor. The old goblin’s face remained in its meticulous scrunch while his eyes blinked three times in rapid succession. Grimlor laid a hand on the table to settle his trembling body as he waited for the dumbfounded superiors to respond.
“Hmmm … something to see indeed.” The general chuckled like the old goblin he was.
Grimlor went to explain but the general beat him to it. “The amber bottle I presume?”
Grimlor only nodded as he didn’t want to hear the man’s, who he now inhabited, voice just yet.
“Remarkable thing you’ve found there.” The old goblin studied him. “Your face may be covered in hair, but it cannot hide your urge to tell me something. Out with it then.”
“I wish to use this gift.” Even the general’s eyes widened at the sound of Grimlor’s voice. The words sounded eloquent and smooth as silver as they rolled off the tongue, still, it made his stomach churn to hear such a thing. “Grant me permission to take this to Bravlem and infiltrate the human capital.”
Both officers let loose a barrage of insults and threats as nasty as a refuse pit while Grimlor’s expression hid beneath his new beard, for he knew the only opinion that mattered was the general’s.
“Silence the both of you!” The old goblin turned to Grimlor and gave a half-hearted smirk. “The problem with officers is they feel entitled at all moments to share their opinion … even in the presence of superior intelligence.” He held out a weathered, shaking finger, pointed at Grimlor. “Even though I’m sure it was only dumb luck you picked Bravlem, you should have no problem infiltrating both city and castle as the man, you now inhabit, is wearing the king’s inner-council sigil on his left breast.”
Grimlor knew how foolish he looked for not inspecting the garb for recognizable visages.
“I thought as much,” said the general, reading Grimlor like a book. “Be that as it may, I am willing to overlook such impetuousness and send you anyway, for this is too good an opportunity to squander.”
The two officers scowled at the promise from their leader. Grimlor straightened up and saluted. The old general only nodded in acknowledgment.
He sent the other two with Grimlor as escorts to make sure he wasn’t attacked in camp as they collected supplies for his mission, including the amber bottle.
Fortune bade his quest as the western gales overpowered their brothers from the east and pushed him on his way. The general had cleared all goblin scouting parties along his trail to ensure no friendly fire would make his end while in disguise. An endless expanse of billowing grass combed over knolls made for easy terrain. Copses popped up from time to time, but they were thin and offered little, if any, hiding places for those who would do him harm. Grim clouds barricaded the sun, creating the sort of day that Grimlor preferred—glowering and sick.
Ascending the gritty trail, he came to a stop atop the knoll and saw his destination across the prairie. His body jolted as if to drop below the grass, out of sight from their enemy, but he stalled as he remembered who’s skin he wore. He smiled as his instincts remained keen, for he would need them once again when the time to attack came. Massive bronzed walls enveloped Apoch, the capital of Bravlem, like the arms of a god. A massif sprouted out of the back of the city and held the king’s castle above all, an attempt to appear as a protective overseer to its people and intimidator to its enemies.
The amber flask felt cold in his hand as he pulled it out and uncorked it. He took a drink, careful not to over indulge in something as magical as it was. Continuing on, he rehearsed the story of his brave escape from certain doom for anyone who might ask where he’d been.
A pair of sentries atop the city wall called out as he got close. The massive posterns parted and a single rider on a carriage exited and stopped before him.
“Good to see your return, my lord Ephes.”
Grimlor simply nodded out of fear his voice would betray him and give away his disguise.
“I’m to return you to the castle. Many folk, including the king, are anxious to see you.”
The blood drained from his pale face at the mention of people, most importantly the king. He needed some time to prepare and ease into this guile plan.
“Postpone greetings with the king. Take me to my quarters,” he said as confidently as he could.
The driver eyed him while biting his lower lip. After a moment, he replied. “As you wish, my lord.”
Grimlor pulled the drapes as he entered the carriage, not wanting a soul to see him as they rode into the city.
The mighty posterns creaked like a whale’s dying breath as they shut. The driver kept them at a good pace while they weaved through the city. In the darkness, Grimlor heard the sounds of merchants calling out their specials, children running, laughing, and enjoying whatever treats they dined on, and people cavorting serendipitously without it turning to screaming, threatening or slashing some other soul’s throat—all played like the sound of boiling rats to him. The urge to see such queer behavior became too much and he splintered the drapes, giving him just enough room to see out without others seeing in. His ears told no lies, his eyes confirmed. Common and esteemed folk alike intermingled in tailored clothes painted in rich colors, perfumed necks, and manicured faces that spasmed in constant expression—most of which looked like jubilance. It must be the wine, he thought. Something so rich and sense dulling must keep them in a perpetual state of enamored bliss. Grimlor had to cover his mouth to keep from gagging at the sight, sounds, and smells of it all, like one that consumed something sweet when they expected sour.
He closed the drapes and blocked out the raucous from the outside with visions of their skin curling in flame as the carriage made its way up the massif’s road to the castle.
Without his demanding, the carriage door opened a second after they stopped. A gilded knight stood aside as Grimlor climbed out. He masked his awe of the castle by covering his mouth before it could gape. The mineral that they had constructed it out of held its icy façade upon close inspection. It truly was an incredible sight, one that even he and his comrades could not denounce. All the more glorious when we raze it, he thought.
The driver passed him onto a short bald man with a rotund stomach that hung over a belt that seemed to bury itself deeper in his pudge with each breath. They wound through stairwell after stairwell and corridor after corridor until he felt the fat man was intentionally trying to confuse him. Finally stopping at a plain wooden door, strapped in iron, his guide stepped aside and bowed. “Your wife awaits you inside, my lord.”
Before Grimlor could stutter out a coherent response to such an audacious reality, the fat man plodded down the stairwell and out of earshot. The thought the man he now inhabited would have a wife never crossed his mind. He wished he had gone to court to revel in his return with the king, at least there he could feign gratitude for their relief—here though—alone in a room with an intimate companion—he had never thought of for a second.
The only thing he could think of as he grasped the door handle was, be soft in words and gentle in touch. It was the only thing he knew about the companions of man. Opening the door, his now wife came in to view, sobbing into her hands, half clothed on the edge of the bed. Grimlor had never trembled before battle like he did now. The mission he once thought to be challenging had drifted in to the realm of arduous.
“Wife.” Was all he could manage to say.
The woman turned immediately at his voice and was upon him before he knew it, squeezing the breath out his lungs and planting potent kisses up and down his face. Although her face was swollen from weeping and bags drooped beneath both eyes, from what he wagered, many sleepless nights, he found her appearance pleasing.
“I thought you were dead, my wonderful Ephes!” she said in between pecks. “I thought I lost you.” She let the loose robe covering her drop to the floor and a powerful yearning flowed from her touch.
The urge to play along and embrace more of her affection moved through him as he had never received something as such. Marriage, let alone child rearing, did not exist in the goblin clans; you merely took whatever female stroked your desires and forced your seed upon her. As soon as it was over the male would leave. She would then carry the infant to term and if it was a female it started its training in the lighter, more skilled trades of war: archery, poisons, and espionage. If it was a male, he was taken and raised amongst the warriors and bread for single, hand-to-hand combat first and then passed through a myriad of levels until he ended with a sword. This sort of rearing made it almost impossible for him to know how to respond.
“Please, my dear,” he said, gently removing her arms from around him. “I wish that I could at this moment. It has been a long few days getting back home to you.”
A hundred points on her face cringed as she processed his refusal, albeit polite and delicate, a refusal it remained. “Of course.” She covered herself with the robe once again and smiled courteously. “I will give you today to recover … but you cannot hold me off for long.”
Grimlor scanned the room as they separated; varnished wooden dressers and cabinets along with a garish bed that could fit ten, all of it swathed with jewels, polished silver or gold, and cut out of the south wall was a large opening to a balcony with a white veil acting as a barrier.
His wife sat in a chair in front of a table covered in brushes, pins, broches, and other feminine decorations, all reflected in the large mirror that sat above. Grimlor remained standing, unsure of what to do.
“Tell me of your visit to Inor. Did you settle the trade dispute?”
The fabricated story of him escaping the clutches of a goblin horde had to be altered now. If Ephes had indeed been on a mission to settle trade disputes with the Inorians, the king himself would have sanctioned it and would be expecting an answer as well. He thought to combine both stories as parts of them were both true.
“I did … for the time being.” He left himself an out in case they received word from Inor that trade remained hampered before his goblin brethren could take the castle. “It’s a complicated negotiation and not without its political pitfalls.”
“What I wouldn’t give for a world without politics.” His wife shook her head.
“My thoughts exactly.” He paused to align the details of the attack, he could still see her real husband’s terror as they cut their party down. “Although I am lucky to be alive.”
Grimlor proceeded to tell her the entire story of the attack as if his true place had been switched with Ephes, recounting every detail for effect. Her expression ran through the course of emotions along with the tale, just as he had hoped for. This meant she believed him and the deceit of Grimlor’s secret grew stronger.
Looking out to the balcony as he finished, the faded orange of sunset peaked through the clouds. His now wife remained seated, staring off into nowhere, as she seemed to replay her own vision of his heroic escape from death. He had to hold in a reveling smile as what he thought the hardest, and most unexpected part, of the plan had been solved.
She shook out of the daze and looked at him and then the outside. “Come.” She stood up. “We mustn’t be late for dinner. I’m sure word has reached the king and he’ll want to recognize your safe return.
Dressing quickly, after Grimlor required her assistance to put together a suitable outfit, they made their way down the labyrinth of stairs and corridors to the banquet hall. The room was grand, but could hardly contain the crowd that had packed in; if it was a boat it would have capsized a hundred people ago. Grimlor had to learn quickly how to great another like a man as dozens rushed toward to congratulate and tell him how grateful they were for his return. A simple lock of arms and firm pat of the shoulder sufficed. The final greeting came from one of the few military men in attendance, a commander Resht. Grimlor decided he would have to keep a keen eye on him in the coming days.
They were seated on a large dais, five chairs to the king’s right. His royal highness was much younger than Grimlor expected as he couldn’t have been much more than twenty. The clean shaven, red-haired man turned his way with a genuine and polished smile while holding his chalice in the air. “To Ephes! May everyman serve the crown as loyal and as fierce as he. For not even a goblin ambush could detour him.” Everyone followed the king in toasting their returned comrade.
Grimlor looked to his wife and she smirked; she must have gotten the word out while the mob greeted him—she did work fast.
From the first sip of wine to the last honeyed chicken drum, Grimlor remained in a cozy state of intoxication—with each minute he eased further into his disguise. It seemed the second he had lost the taste for whatever decadent food or drink was placed in front of him, a new one replaced it. From red and dry to spiced and sweet, they covered the full array of fermented grapes. The most luscious parts of every fatted animal had been prepared with the exact syrup, spice or brine to compliment it. By the time the feast ended, Grimlor realized that it was closer to sunrise than to the prior sunset.
His wife, who partook of more drink than food, clung to his shoulder, whispering and occasionally slobbering lascivious comments in his ear as he carried them both back to their room. Placing her on the bed, he went to shut the door, but he stopped as a short black-haired man with a gaunt face and build stood on the stoop just outside their quarters.
“Seems as though you both had yourselves a night?” His voice was sharp and caused Grimlor to lose his jovial disposition.
The man’s eyes threatened violence as Grimlor studied them. He took a step toward the stranger, but held more than a single lunge away, unwilling to trust such a fellow. Latching the door behind him, Grimlor felt a sense of relief, knowing that a plank of wood and iron stood between his pseudo-wife and potential danger. After a moment he realized this and shook it off, remembering that he could feel no sympathy for a human female.
“What do you want?” Grimlor asked with balled fists, ready for a fight.
The man wheezed out a nasally laugh, one suiting someone so spindly. “You look like you could take my head off, Ephes. Too much wine turn you into a pugilist.”
After inspecting the man and determining he wasn’t concealing anything, Grimlor took another step forward. “I won’t ask again.”
A pair of hands with pallid fingers rose in a show of no contest before he could get too close. “Alright! Alright! You know why I’m here.”
“Pretend I know nothing and tell me anyways.” Grimlor took another step forward.
The man scoffed. “Why must you always play games?” He peaked down the corridor behind him to make sure no one was close by. “Did you confirm Jolnjer and the other’s support in overthrowing the king?”
The words echoed in his addled mind, the spirits having their desired effect. Another army, one of men, with intentions to capture the city, it couldn’t be what he thought. The small man looked serious enough in waiting for his response, perhaps he was telling the truth, Grimlor reasoned. The old adage popped into his head, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Was that true in this case? If he revealed who he truly was, would the man welcome another alliance to overthrow the city? Then again, they would probably want it for themselves and not welcome a goblin contingent within the walls.
“Yes … that is before we were attacked and the others killed.”
The man sighed. “I thought as much. It will take some more work on my part but I am sure if they gave you their support, their subordinates will be more than willing to pick up the mantle.”
“One would hope.” Grimlor answered, trying to seem confident in the rouse.
“The others here in the castle, including commander Resht, are nearly ready. Won’t be but a few days.”
“Resht?” Grimlor asked and then remembered he’d met the commander briefly before dinner.
“Yes, sir. He has joined the cause and is drawing up the final attack plan. Do you want the details?”
A stratagem, as clear as glass, started to formulate in Grimlor’s mind. An opportunity existed beyond what he and his superiors, even the general, could have imagined. It would take every ounce of his cunning to bring it to fruition, but then again, he had the upper hand—both disguise and knowledge where the most powerful weapons in his repertoire.
“Yes … don’t leave anything out.”