How I love these little folk, I think to myself bemusedly as I watch them bustle about me, their wrinkly pine-green skin shining dully in the firelight, the little black tufts of hair behind their ears and on their chests looking like oddly-colored grass. So peaceful, and yet so dangerous.
A young goblin maiden toddles over to me. She’s about knee height to me, and her little grey goblin gown drapes over her rounded frame, her curly white hair like a ball of snow on top of her head. “Sirrah! You comesies again!”
I smile, mildly confused at such an enthusiastic welcome from a stranger, when all of a sudden I recognize her. “Why, little Flopsie! You’ve grown!”
“I iz not little! I iz grown.” She pouts up at me.
I smile affectionately, and pat her on her head. She almost bites my hand off, and I laugh easily. “Ah, Flopsie, I missed you. Still learning how to fly, I see?”
Eager to please, she jumps into the air and flaps her arms, trying to fly. I catch her before she hits the ground, and sit her down on my lap. “I mizzed oo, sirrah.”
“I missed you too, little one.”
I look around me, and I see the humans slowly getting used to the goblins. Leslie was pouting, Max was entranced by them, Joey seemed to find them entertaining, and Anne…Well, as she was Anne, she found their hustle and bustle annoying.
“So freaking happy,” I hear her mutter from here.
I sigh, and smile at Flopsie reassuringly. “So, take me to your leader.”
The little goblin gets to her feet, and takes me by the hand. “Come on, sirrah. They iz waiting for oo.”
I follow her into the main area of the goblins’ home.
As always, I am welcomed into their home. They greet me cheerily, swarming me and hugging me. The adults come up to my waist, the young ones to my knees or calves. “Avery!” calls out a familiar voice. “You’re back!”
I smile, and charge the little goblin. “Moses!” The little goblin nearly bowls me over in his enthusiasm.
“Avery, how long it’s been! I was beginning to think that perhaps you were never coming back!” He hugs me, before looking up at me with his deep blue eyes. I rub his head, smiling, before picking him up in my arms and throwing him into the air.
“I will always come back, Moses, never doubt that. You and I traveled together for a long time—do you think I could ever forget you? I was just working for Lady White, and I didn’t have even a day to myself to come up and visit you. I’m so sorry, Moses.”
The goblin looks at me, and kicks my side gently, indicating that he wants to be put back down. I set him down, and look at him solemnly. “It’s alright Avery. I’m just glad to see you again, is all. What brings you this way?”
“I’m on a quest for Lady White,” I tell him, before realizing that perhaps I cannot tell him anymore than that. “It’s confidential, my apologies.”
Moses waves it away. “No trouble at all. Can you stay the night?”
I think for a moment. Could we afford to dawdle here?
Moses breaks into my thoughts: “You’ll make a lot better time with a good night’s rest and some better food in you.”
I smile, and tell him that we will stay.
Smiling, Moses turns and goes to fetch a good meal.
Not long after, the five of us travelers are sitting cross-legged on sequined pillows around a crudely made wooden table. Flopsie dances for us, the tambourines in her hands ringing with bells and chimes, her plain robe exchanged for one of satiny cloth and bright colors. She sings and the other goblins pound on tables, while an older goblin maiden provides dancing entertainment of a different sort. Instead of going to join most of the males, I remain seated where I am, cheering on my little friend. Her parents had been killed in a trading deal gone bad with the humans, and as I had witnessed it I’d taken it upon myself to raise her. She had barely been ankle height to me—and most of her was head. Now? Now she was nearly full-sized, full-bodied, but still with the spirit of a child.
Flopsie jumps high into the air, and flaps her arms, cawing like a bird. The few feasters that watch her applaud, enchanted by her performance. Before long, she lands on the table again with a soft thud, and it’s then that I sense it: She’s using magic to keep herself in the air for longer.
Of course she is.
As a servant of Lady White, I am oath-bound to report anyone of any race utilizing magic with any skill so that she may be able to train them into soldiers. I couldn’t blame her for making all of her followers do that—it was, after all, how a young elf like me had come into her employ. I had been living on the edge of the forest with my family, among other elves trying to make better relationships with the humans. I had been about ten at the time that my mother, father, and sister were revealed to be Conduits. My family was taken from me, and when I fought back, I threw a soldier fifty feet. Of course, he was a very small soldier, and I was after all an elf. But I was ten at the time, which made things a lot harder. And, oh yes, did I mention that I didn’t actually lay a hand on him?
Anywho, one of Lady White’s people had been in the area, and had witnessed the event. Before I could save my family, I had been dragged away, and trained to become the perfect soldier.
The training hadn’t been easy. Lady White wasn’t exactly gentle, but yet she was the best woman around. So I fell for her.
I looked at Flopsie. If I reported her, she would undergo the same training. She would be brutalized, and the experience would only be worse for her because of the fact that she was a goblin. Not all elves were as welcoming to other species as I.
So what do I do? Report her and pray that Lady White won’t annihilate the childlike innocence I so adored from my youngest friend? Betray the people I trust most?
Or not tell, and break my oath to Lady White?
It wasn’t a choice.
In my mind I apologized, and drank down the flagon of ale I held in my hand.
Afterwards I felt better, but it didn’t make me relish the idea of lying to Lady White any more than I had before.
The rest of the night passes by remarkably without incident. Before long, the four of us travelers were turning in for the night. As an honored guest, I was placed in the same area as Moses and the rest of the leading family, but the others were to sleep tonight in an area much less accommodating: The bunks of the ordinary goblins.
These were not ordinary bunk beds. First, each individual bed is twice the normal size, thickly padded, and overflowing with blankets. Second, they are stacked ten high. Third, the space between bunks is exactly four inches taller than the tallest goblin.
So, basically, if you sit up you bang your head very badly.
I grin to myself, and slip into a dream-filled sleep.