Blacknail climbed to his feet with a sigh and followed his master. He had wanted to enjoy lying on the soft grass under the sun some more.
As they crossed the bandit camp Blacknail felt his earlier fear and joy start to fade as he calmed down. The sky above was clear and blue so there was no place for those dreadful harpies or the worse things that filled his imagination to perch.
However, he soon noticed that the camp had changed since he left. While the camp had been almost empty when he had left earlier it now contained over two dozen loitering bandits.
Several of them looked over as Saeter and Blacknail approached. Some of them immediately lost interest and looked away but others threw Blacknail disbelieving or even out right hostile looks.
This made Blacknail feel uncomfortable. He remembered the things some of the meaner men had said about how they had wanted to kill him. Did a lot of these humans feel the same way?
He was almost sure that his master would protect him until he figured out how to get home, but just to be sure he would have to try extra hard to be a good helper. He just hoped he could work in the camp instead of out in the woods. He would rather deal with the glares and rope weaving than the ravening beasts.
“Is that a goblin?” Blacknail heard one disbelieving voice say.
“I think it is. Look at it. It must be some sort of pet,” another human replied.
Other voices murmured and debated amongst themselves, but Saeter completely ignored the voices and walked over to his tent.
Off to the side of his fire pit there was a simple three or four foot high rack made of sticks that was tied together with twine. After Saeter had put down his bag he pulled out a knife and slit the rabbits' throats. He then looped a piece of cord around their feet so he could hang them up on the rack.
Blood dripped from the rabbits' open wounds onto the trampled grass below. It smelled so delicious to Blacknail that he licked his lips. However, he knew better than to eat something without his master's permission, especially while he was still looking.
He couldn't prevent his stomach from growling though. It had been awhile since he had last been fed. His last full meal had been early that morning when he had still been caged on the wagon. That seemed like so long ago to Blacknail, much longer than a day. Saeter noticed the rumbling sounds and turned to the goblin.
“I suppose you've earned a bite to eat,” he said as he rummaged through his bag.
He pulled out a small piece of dried meat and tossed it to Blacknail. He also fetched a small wooden bowl and filled it with water from his water pouch.
The goblin hurriedly ate the meat. It tasted salty but very good, much better than what he had been fed on the wagon, but not as nice as a freshly caught rat. He washed it down with water from the bowl.
After he had finished eating Blacknail turned to his master and assumed a sad begging expression. He wanted more food, like one of the juicy rabbits. Surely, his master didn't need all of them!
“No begging. If you're still hungry you're gonna need to find your own food. There's plenty of wild carrot and other stuff around,” Saeter told him with a scowl.
Saeter then looked around and pointed out a tall white flower. Blacknail sighed and reluctantly trudged over to the plants. He sniffed them carefully and looked them over. How was he supposed to eat these?
Before he could figure out what to do he was interrupted by unexpected voices. The goblin looked up to see a human female with short black hair approach his master.
“Saeter, what in all the hells are you up to now?” someone said with a feminine but hard commanding voice.
This new woman was athletic looking without being muscled like a man or Vorscha. Various dangerous looking blades were strapped to her dark leather armor. The armor itself seemed to be more complete and better maintained than that of most the other humans around.
Yet, it was her glacial blue eyes that stood out the most. They were as hard and cold as ice and seemed to pierce through whoever she was looking at.
Blacknail involuntarily ducked into the grass as her eyes passed him over but Seater just casually looked up from what he was doing and met her stare.
“Ah, what can I do for you, Herad?” the old scout replied nonchalantly as the woman narrowed her eyes slightly in annoyance at his response.
“Vorscha told me you had found yourself a goblin pet. I don’t want vermin like that wandering the camp,” she told him as she threw Blacknail a hostile look.
“Really? I think he’ll be very useful,” Saeter replied.
“I don’t care what you think. Get rid of it or I will,” Herad told him coldly.
Blacknail froze and felt goose bumps rise on his skin. The woman seemed to be the chief of this tribe and she didn’t appear to like him much! He didn’t think any simple tricks would win her over either.
However, Seater seemed to be calmly thinking something over.
“If that’s what you want then that’s what I’ll do, but I was just thinking about how useful he would be in helping me hunt. Not to mention if we have a tame goblin around it will drive the wild ones away; they’re quite territorial,” Saeter told her.
It was subtle but Blacknail thought he saw Herad's eyes narrow. She scowled and glanced at Saeter suspiciously.
“How exactly will that thing be of any use?” she asked him.
Blacknail could see that she had begun to think things over though. He felt a speck of hope that he would survive this.
“Many ways, it can track like a hound but it’s stealthier and smarter. With him I’ll be able sniff out the trails of both animals and men. Also, like I said before his scent will scare away all the wild goblins and end our theft problems,” Saeter explained.
Herad thought about it for a few seconds before answering.
“Fine, since you seem to believe it will be useful you can keep it, but it had better not cause any trouble or inconvenience me,” Herad told him.
“Don't worry, he's well trained and I'm planning on keeping him too busy to get into any trouble,” Saeter replied.
“See that you do, old man,” she responded as she threw another look towards Blacknail.
The goblin instantly crouched down again and tried to disappear into the grass as she looked his way. He knew she could still see him and that all he was doing was making himself look silly, but he couldn't help himself. That woman's eyes were really scary. She looked like she would kill him as soon as look at him.
Blacknail was very glad that the chieftain Herad had decided not to kill him and allowed him to join her tribe. He just really wished he hadn’t been volunteered into hunting in the forest. That sounded dangerous!
When he had lived in the sewer he had never had to deal with things like this. He needed to find a way back there soon.
Much to the goblin's relief Herad soon turned back to Saeter. She scowled at the rabbits hanging on the rack beside him in disapproval. This upset Backnail. He had almost died getting those rabbits!
“I do hope you're planning on bringing more than a few scrawny rabbits to tonight's celebration, Saeter. We need to celebrate today's victory. It's not every day that a fat caravan of goods falls into our laps. Those pathetic excuses for rabbits in front of you will hardly make up for skipping out on helping reload the wagons,” Herad told him coldly.
“I plan on going back out in a minute,” Saeter replied simply without any apparent concern.
“Good, but don't stay out too late. The band will be heading out early tomorrow morning after the men have had a chance to rest and patch their wounds. I want you out scouting a path first thing tomorrow. We will be heading north to escape any unwanted attention we have brought down on ourselves, just in case one of what passes for the local lords around here decides to actually care.... for once. We'll use the roads for the first few days but head off track when it turns eastward. I don't want to run into any surprises,” Herad explained.
“A good plan,” Saeter replied with a nod. For some reason his response annoyed Herad.
“I wasn't asking your opinion Saeter. Just do your job with your usual competence and we won't have a problem,” she reprimanded him.
She then threw Blacknail a disgusted look before turning around and walking off. Saeter turned to the cowering goblin when she was gone.
“She has that effect on a lot of people,” he remarked.
Sighing, he got up and stretched out before picking up his pack and bow again. Then he turned back to Blacknail.
“Well, it seems like I’m going to have to get you trained quickly now,” Saeter told him. “So, there's no point in waiting around. Come here.”
Blacknail shoved a still dirty wild carrot he had managed to dig up into his mouth and headed back over to his master. He was glad the scary lady had left.
Saeter got up and started walking across the camp towards to another group of bandits, and Blacknail followed him. As the goblin moved he glanced past his master at the humans they were heading towards.
They were a group of five who were talking and sitting in the shade cast by a tall pile of crates. Blacknail recognized two of them, the muscular woman Vorscha and the thin weak looking man named Geralhd.
“Geralhd, I have a job for you!” Saeter yelled out as he approached. With an annoyed grimace Geralhd turned to look at Saeter.
“Since I don't actually work for you Saeter, I think I will have to pass on whatever it is you're talking about,” the thin man replied.
Saeter ignored his response and kept talking.
“I got some rabbits I don't have time to skin and cut up since Herad wants me out hunting. Seems like a job for you, unless you don't know how?” Saeter explained with a hint of taunting in his voice as he spoke the last part.
“I know how to skin a rabbit Saeter, and no I'm not going to try and prove it to you. It's going to take quite a bit more than a simple taunt from you to get me to do your work for you,” Geralhd replied with an annoyed tone.
The other three bandits that were sitting in the shade shuffled away and began to talk amongst themselves.
“I'm thinking my idea of skinning a rabbit right is different than yours. Besides didn't you say you wanted to learn how to survive out here? Well here's an opportunity to learn, boy. I'm sure Vorscha can help you figure out the hard parts,” Saeter told him.
As he talked Geralhd seemed to grow angrier, until it looked like he was either going to start yelling at the other man or punch him. However, before he could do anything Vorscha extended a hand and cut him off. She gave both the men disapproving looks and shook her head.
“Calm down both of you. That's no way to ask a favour Saeter, and you know it. We'll help you out old man but only if you ask nicely,” Vorscha interjected as Saeter gave her an annoyed glare and Garalhd to smiled in triumph.
“Fine, please help with the work...” Saeter asked grumpily. “...for once.”
Geralhd gave Saeter a smug smile. Blacknail was sure Geralhd hadn't heard his master grumble the last part, which didn't surprise the goblin since the man had tiny pink human ears.
“I graciously accept your request for help, Saeter. Think nothing of it,” Geralhd replied smugly.
“Oh, I do. Don't worry,” Saeter grumbled in reply.
There was no way the other man hadn't heard that; however, he apparently chose to ignore it since his only reaction was to keep smiling smugly at Saeter.
“Good, then that's settled. Honestly, I don't know how two men can act so childish sometimes. To think you're both supposed to be bloodthirsty northern bandits,” Vorscha said with a chuckle.
Blacknail also found himself smiling at the funny faces both men were making.
Geralhd noticed Blacknail smiling at him and turned towards the goblin. He returned the goblin's grin and gave a friendly wave. Blacknail thought he was an idiot and planned on avoiding him as much as possible in the future.
“Hey there Blacknail, it's nice to see you again little fellow. I hope Saeter's not treating you too badly,” he cheerfully told the goblin.
The goblin gave Geralhd a suspicious glance. No one had ever talked to Blacknail like that before, ever. What was with the super friendly voice? It was weird and unnerving.
“Master good. He feed me and he scare bad harpies away,” Blacknail replied. He knew which human he needed to stay on the good side of and it wasn't the skinny weak one. He looked out of the corner of his eye and saw Saeter smile approvingly at him.
“Harpies eh? That sounds like a tale,” Vorscha commented after the goblin finished speaking. Saeter turned to her.
“We ran into two of them on our way back from the snares. They thought they could steal some of our rabbits. One of them dove at Blacknail but I scared them off,” Saeter replied with a shrug.
Blacknail remembered it slightly different than that. There were a lot more screams, cowering, and near death experiences in his version. Surprisingly, Gerald's eyes widened in excitement as Saeter spoke.
“Oh harpies! I've always wanted to see a harpy. I've heard they're quite exotic and beautiful creatures. I wish I could have been there,” Geralhd said with a regretful sigh.
Saeter looked at Geralhd like he was an idiot. Well, more of an idiot than usual any way. Blacknail agreed wholeheartedly. He copied his master's facial expression exactly.
Anyone who wanted to run into harpies deserved their fate. He still remembered their terrible claws and horrible voices. Vorscha saw him mimic his master and chuckled at them.
“Next time I think I'm going to run into harpies I'll be sure to bring you,” Saeter told Geralhd sarcastically.
Blacknail thought that was a great idea. The fool would make a great human shield, the goblin thought with a smile.
“Harpies are dangerous, Geralhd. They're likely to attack you if they think they can get away with it. You don't want to run into them without someone at your back. I'm surprised Saeter and his goblin got away as easily as they did,” Vorscha explained.
“I know what I'm doing,” Saeter said with a shrug. Vorscha gave him a sceptical look.
“I don't doubt you know the forest better than anyone but there's a good reason most scouts travel in pairs and not alone, Saeter. It's important to have someone at your back, and before you say anything that goblin of yours doesn’t count,” the tall woman told him with a hint of concern.
“I don't have time to retrain one of the other scouts to get rid of their bad habits, and if I don't they're more likely to draw a Drake down on me than be any real help,” Saeter huffed as Vorscha eyed him critically.
“You could always take Geralhd with you,” Vorscha joked.
Both Saeter and Geralhd blanched at that idea.
“I'll have to humbly decline that suggestion,” Geralhd interjected hurriedly. “When I said I wanted to learn to survive I didn't mean to suggest I wanted to become a scout and go out into the forest. I like it fine here in camp, thank you.”
Blacknail thought that was the first smart thing Geralhd had ever said. Blacknail frowned and wished he had that option. Geralhd saw the goblin's frown and misinterpreted it.
“You’re such a good goblin sitting there so patiently. You must be getting bored. I think you deserve a treat for putting up with your master,” Geralhd said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a bit of dried meat and threw it to Blacknail.
The goblin quickly snatched it from the air and scoffed it down. His opinion of Geralhd changed completely. He was no longer just an idiot. He was an idiotic food source.
“Blacknail thanks Geralhd,” Blacknail said as he chewed and smacked. Vorscha gave him a disgusted look, but Blacknail ignored her as he was deep in thought. Geralhd seemed pleased at the goblin's response.
The man Geralhd had revealed himself to not only have tasty treats but also to be willing to give them to Blacknail. If he sucked up to Geralhd he should be able to get even more treats, and the weak man seemed to be the type of human that could be easily impressed. The trick would be not angering Saeter while doing it.
“Don't spoil him, Geralhd. He needs to learn to fend for himself,” Saeter told the other man with a scowl.
Geralhd just rolled his eyes.
“How about you train him not to eat and speak at the same time, or at least chew quieter?” Vorscha interjected dryly.
“Maybe when I have time,” Saeter replied in the same dry tone.
“Speaking of time, don't let us keep you from your hunting, Saeter. Since you’re so busy and all,” Geralhd said with a wave of his hands in the direction of the forest.
“Indeed,” Saeter replied with a farewell nod to Vorscha.
He then abruptly started walking off with Blacknail in tow. Geralhd gave Blacknail a wave goodbye and the goblin happily waved back. He was already planning how to get another treat out of the thin man.
Without stopping Saeter headed straight out into the forest again. Blacknail followed him reluctantly. They left the rest of the bandit camp behind them as they exited the sunny clearing and stepped out under the shadowy forest canopy again.
Blacknail sighed in resignation. He really didn't want to go back out there, he wanted to go home! He hoped they didn't see any more harpies...