A short story about the introduction of gunpowder to a fantasy world.
Crimson pyres rose into the night sky. Whole villages awash with flame. The entire borderlands drenched with it. The goblins, their hearts full of hate and their eyes full of envy, had done this. They had become a thousand handed, thousand beweaponed tide of hate and terror and with torch and blade they had decimated all who stood before them. And deep, deep inside, was the recrimination that they had been warned of, and they hadn’t listened until it was far, far too late…
* * *
Brenna was surprised to find herself alive. Rolling herself over, she found she lay among the fallen halberdiers she had been assigned to lead. There was a sharp throbbing over her left eye and when she put her hand to it, there was blood. On the ground before her lay her helmet with a nasty dent in it. Looking down across the scalemail hauberk draped over her chest, she could see flakes of gold paint had been scratched away by goblin scimitars here and there but no cuts or breaks. Her hands moved down her frame and found neither wound nor blood. Brenna sat up, and for a moment, was confused as to what had happened when the memory suddenly leapt up at her like the spring of a coiled adder.
She had been leading her men into combat when one of the goblins had pointed one of those — muskets — at her. There was a puff of smoke, then unconsciousness.
This had been her men’s first and last stand. They had been cut down by the goblins shortly after Brenna herself had been rendered unconscious and the goblins in such a hurry that they had taken her for dead. Which was not very much like goblins, Brenna thought.
Withdrawing her handkerchief from her pocket and pouring some of the water from her waterskin across it, she cleaned up most of the blood that had poured across her face and a little of which was matting her hair. She removed her knight’s cape and tore it to pieces to bandage her head and stop the bleeding. She would need to see and to fight if she were going to survive.
Brenna picked up her trident from the ground and used it to help her to stand. She looked all around. The village was a smoldering ruin. Some of the larger structures still burned. All along the dirt and cobblestone streets were the bodies of fallen humans, both soldiers and civilians, but precious few goblins. That too seemed strange. Even with their new weapons, the local militia, reinforced by sailors from Brenna’s squadron, should have managed a better accounting of themselves. But perhaps she was simply making the same mistake and still underestimating the power of these new black powder weapons.
It had seemed a laughable supposition when she’d first heard it. That goblins, of all races, should have managed the secret of the black powder and that this should be some cause for alarm. How would they make it in large enough quantities to matter? Or ship it across miles without it getting wet or being set alight? They were goblins, after all.
They were less of an army and more of a force of nature. The King’s forces, supplemented by Brenna’s order, had kept the goblins to their own lands for the last five thousand years. How could anyone imagine that things could be any different?
Disaster. Fire. Ruin. Things were different. Brenna reached into her scale mail and found the symbol of her goddess, Draya of the Deep Sea, still about her neck. She lifted it to her lips and kissed it, praying for help. Brenna took and released a deep breath as she replaced the disc, marked with seashell, starfish and crescent moon, to its place about her neck. A craned look in the direction of the docks told her all she needed to know.
Curls of smoke rising from a dozen places lifting into the sky formed a single haze, a miasma of defeat and despair. There was no hope of rescue from the sea. Brenna winced for her blasphemy and then looked inland. If she were going to join the King’s forces, it would have to be further inland. Wentshire might be dead but she might find the army at Bluespring, if she hurried. Using her trident as a walking stick, Brenna took her first hesitant steps forward into the night.
Brenna had cautiously followed the road for a while before abandoning it to travel overland. Slower, but safer, she thought. Atop a hill overlooking rows of crops, she could make out by the light of the full moon, a farmhouse. It looked unburnt and reasonably intact. Confusion shone once again on her face. Why leave it alone? Why wasn’t it burned to the ground like so much else? Were the goblins in such a rush that they’d simply bypassed it altogether? Brenna shook her head and made her way up to the old farmhouse.
Silent as a mouse, she peered in to the structure at the top of the hill. Some of the windows were boarded, some were not. There was no sign of life within, no farmers, no goblins, no one at all, at least, not that she could see or hear. Strapping her trident to her back and drawing her saber from its sheath, Brenna cautiously pushed open the door to the farmhouse with her boot.
The old wooden door creaked open and moonlight poured across the floor casting the room in sharp angles of subtle light and shadow. There was disarray — plates and cups and uncooked vegetables on a table, an overturned stool, but nothing to indicate the place had been ransacked by goblins. Not wanting to be stabbed by some farmer’s pitchfork nor alert any goblins nearby, Brenna raised her voice slightly and spoke into the darkened house.
“I am Brenna, Knight of the Order of Ship and Star, in service to our King and to the goddess Draya. I mean you no harm but seek aid and succor.”
There was no response. Brenna entered the house and gathered up some of the loose vegetables and began to search the building. The inhabitants had obviously left in a hurry, and no one had been by since, at least not as far as she could see. Brenna found an overturned lantern besides a cabinet and lit it, lowering its hood to cast its light largely forward. The floors creaked as she moved about them.
Roots, tubers and vegetables, besides these, Brenna had found the lantern and some ground flour to supplement her provisions. Outside there was a horse trough filled with water that she used to refill her waterskin. After all, she thought, how long she might be wandering the countryside like this? The thought came unbidden to her mind that her journey would only last as long as it took her to run into the army, or the goblins, either way her wandering would be at an end. The door to the basement lay before her.
She had searched the rest of the farmhouse and found little of use, still she felt some trepidation. The idea of being caught downstairs in the basement if enemies should arise gave her pause but so did the idea of there being goblins down there sneaking up on her from behind. Brenna prayed silently to Draya and opened the door.
The basement door swung open, with little noise or creaking, to reveal a flight of stairs. Brenna shone the light of the lantern down them and then swept it to the side to take in the whole of the basement. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Disused tools and dust-covered belongings. Most likely nothing she could use but at least she could see no sign of the goblins. Across the room was another set of stairs leading to two doors at ground level. The doors to the outside had been barred from within.
Something moved. The rustling of quickly terminated movement came to Brenna’s ears and she swiftly spun the lantern’s light in that direction. Some wooden crates and an old overturned wheelbarrow were fixed in the lantern’s light. Brenna made her way down half the stairs before vaulting the railing and placing the lantern on the floor facing the wheelbarrow.
“Come out,” she said.
There was no response.
“Come out now, into the light and I won’t hurt you. I won’t say it again.”
Again, no response. Saber at the ready, Brenna made her way over to the crates and wheelbarrow, her shadow cast by the lantern across them. She kicked over the wheelbarrow and heard something akin to a puppy’s high-pitched yelp.
There quivering in the shadows was a small peasant girl, obviously terrified. Brenna sheathed her blade and stepped back.
“I won’t hurt you, child. You’re all right,” Brenna said while kneeling.
The little girl looked up at her, the streaks of tears in her eyes and Brenna could see she was beginning to calm down. The girl flung herself into Brenna’s arms and began to cry. It was all Brenna could do to simply hold the girl and let her get it out of her system. Brenna knew nothing of children and civilian life, only the order. As an orphan, Brenna had been raised by the order, her parents lost to her at an early age. And although her time with the order and her sisters had been happy, it gave Brenna no joy to think that the child in her arms might herself walk such a path. The world had enough orphans.
Brenna leaned back and looked into the girl’s eyes. “I am Brenna, Knight of the Order of Ship and Star, who are you?”
The little black-haired peasant girl said nothing. Brenna looked at her and her simple brown clothing. There was no sign of blood or wounds, nothing to indicate she had been harmed in anyway. “Speak child,” Brenna said, “who are you?”
The girl pushed gently away from Brenna and began to move her fingers through the air before her. Brenna’s hand found the grip of her hilt but it suddenly dawned on her that the girl was not attempting sorcery nor witchcraft but trying to communicate with her through gestures.
Realization shone on Brenna’s face. “You’re mute then, I understand.”
Suddenly the girl bolted away from Brenna and up towards the stairs into the farmhouse. Brenna gave chase until she reached the stairs and then went back for the lantern so she could see. When she turned around and began to mount the stairs after the girl, Brenna saw her standing at the top of the stairs holding a dandelion.
Brenna caught her breath and calmed down. “Don’t run off child, it’s dangerous. There are goblins about. Come here.”
The girl made her way down the stairs and stood before Brenna. She held the dandelion in both hands and tilted her head over and stuck out her tongue. Brenna, despite herself, laughed. The little girl lifted her head and smiled and then tilted her head over and closed her eyes and stuck her tongue out again. Brenna nodded.
“Lily — your name is Lily.”
The little girl lifted her head again and smiled and hugged Brenna.
“All right, Lily — you need to stay close to me. Is there anyone else you know around here?”
Lily shook her head.
“Where are your parents?” Brenna asked.
Lily waved her fingers through the air again but seeing no sign of recognition in Brenna’s eyes, simply shook her head again.
“You don’t know?”
Lily shook her head.
“I see.” Brenna thought for a moment that the likeliest scenario was a hastened departure by the owners of the farmhouse and that the child had some how gotten separated from the rest of the family and made her way back home.
Something slammed, loudly, against the barred doors to the outside of the basement. Brenna whirled in place and drew her saber. Lily clutched Brenna’s leg. There was another report against the doors and another and with the third, they flung open and a cloaked figure tumbled down the stairwell on the opposite side of the room.
Brenna raced to the far side of the basement and shone the lantern upon the fallen form. An Elf of the Moon Clans! There before her was an elfin woman of indeterminate age, as most elfin women were, clad in leather armor and a cloak of blues and greens. Her face was most beautiful, her skin of deepest blue hue and her pointed ears shot out horizontally from under her straight, purple hair. On her back was a quiver of arrows and clenched in her fist was a longbow. Brenna could see the elf was bleeding. The Moon Clans had been allies of the human kingdoms for generations going back into antiquity and Brenna had no need to fear one of their number. She sheathed her saber and placed the lantern on the floor. Running her hands along the body of the lithe elf, she found a cut between her ribs on the right hand side. When Brenna withdrew her hand, it was covered in blue elfin blood.
For a moment, Brenna experienced the perverse desire to taste the elf’s blood. Among the goblins it was said that elf blood was sweeter, by far, than honey. But then, goblins and necromancers were also known to partake of unicorn flesh and it did not do to emulate them.
Brenna wiped her hand off on the elf’s cloak and then cleaned and bound the elf maiden’s wounds and made her as comfortable as she could. The elf began to come around faster than Brenna expected and Brenna poured her some water from her skin.
The unknown archer sipped the water eagerly and blinked her eyes up at Brenna. “Narchebili cerdelad forrhuion,” she said.
“I am afraid I know little of moonspeech, Mistress Elf,” Brenna responded.
Brenna thought through what little moonspeech she did know and tried to say that she didn’t understand. “Ammalar, rhinnorili rhugol.”
“Nenuingili birith tollos eryd?”
Brenna shook her head and looked to Lily who did likewise. “I am Brenna of the Order of Ship and Star,” Brenna said, pointing to herself.
“Brenna.” She pointed at the elf.
“Hyathé”, the elf maiden replied.
Brenna smiled and gestured towards Lily. “This is Lily.”
Lily peeked out from behind Brenna and smiled at the elf. Hyathé began to sit up and Brenna helped her. The elf, with gestures and simple moonspeech, communicated the situation to Brenna with the aid of a crude map she
traced in the dirt of the basement floor. As Brenna could best make out, the goblins had launched an attack across the whole of the frontier between their kingdoms and those of the humans. The dwarfs and elfs had honored the ancient pacts and sent what soldiers they could to help but the goblins were moving too fast.
“Duil, sirryd duil,” Hyathé repeated.
“Fast, too fast,” Brenna repeated in common.
“Sirryd duil,” Hyathé said again.
And it all became clear to Brenna. For thousands of years, the goblins’ tactics had remained the same. Largely they would raid and pillage, typically in summer, taking what they could from outlying villages and sacking the odd town or caravan in the years they chose to be active. They were raiders. When their numbers allowed, they would take outlying territories and attempt to hold them, turning human farmers and craftsmen into slaves and using them to raise crops and repair human defenses and fortifications for their own use. But they weren’t doing that now. They weren’t doing that this time. Too fast, the elf had said. Brenna saw the frontier in her mind’s eye and an emerald host on foot and wolfback racing across the countryside. With their new weapons, the goblins weren’t raiding, they were waging a war of annihilation. They were slaughtering the militias, the King’s army and the knightly orders in the field, burning walled villages and fortifications to the ground and moving on to the next target. Suddenly, Brenna realized the danger they were in. As fast as the goblins were moving, they couldn’t afford to dawdle. If the army was defeated in the field or retreated back towards the capitol, either way, it would put them out of reach and the three of them would be isolated and surrounded.
“Dainanrga.” Surrounded, Brenna said.
“Dainanrga tul anaurga.” Surrounded and dead.
Realizing there was no time to waste, Brenna helped Hyathé to her feet and up the stairs into the house. Brenna sent Lily to fetch some clothes to use as fresh dressings for Hyathé’s wounds for the journey and to gather any candles or lantern oil she could find.
When she returned, Brenna helped Hyathé outside. Lily began to tug at Brenna’s leg.
Brenna looked down at Lily to see her holding out her hand with her middle finger extended and her other fingers down and wiggling. She tugged at Brenna’s leg again. Brenna leaned Hyathé against the farmhouse and gestured to Hyathé to wait. Hyathé nodded.
Lily took Brenna’s hand and began to lead her away from the house, slipping free of Brenna’s hand and breaking into a run. Brenna, wordlessly, pursued. Behind the farmhouse was a barn and behind the barn, still tied to a tree, was an old plow-horse.
Brenna smiled and Lily put her hands on her hips triumphantly. Brenna patted Lily on the head and lifted her up and put her on the back of the horse, untied it from the tree and led it back to the farmhouse. Brenna leaned down and locked her fingers together and Hyathé placed her foot in her hands and got up on the horse besides Lily. Brenna stayed on foot and the three of them made their way off the hilltop as Hyathé pointed east, in the direction of the capitol.
Traveling by road, Brenna led the horse as Hyathé directed, navigating by the stars. With the horse carrying Hyathé and Lily, they were making good time down the deserted roads when suddenly Hyathé pulled on the rope Brenna was using to lead the horse.
Brenna knew that word very well. “Goblins.”
Brenna peered into the distance but could see little in the dark even with the full moon above. She didn’t dare to keep the lantern lit or maintain a torch. Better to trust to Hyathé’s elfsight and her keen hearing. Brenna pulled the horse off the road and away from it for a while before continuing. She looked to Lily and put her finger to her lips.
“Shh…” Lily nodded.
Brenna felt a little foolish asking the little mute girl to remain quiet but Brenna felt it was better to be safe. Any stray sound from them at all might cause a goblin patrol to descend upon them.
Brenna led the horse quietly through the grass parallel to the road. She wasn’t sure exactly where the goblins were on the road compared to where they were but she could hear them. The guttural cries of the goblin tongue, knives slicing through flesh and leather, these were the sounds of goblin looting. Apparently this band of goblins hadn’t obeyed the orders to keep moving and were taking everything they could from whatever poor people had fallen prey to them. Brenna offered a silent prayer for the fallen and hoped in her heart of hearts that the people being slaughtered weren’t Lily’s kin. Brenna’s foot thumped against something in the dark and she froze. All three of them looked in the direction of the road to see if the goblins had heard anything but the sounds continued unabated.
Brenna handed the rope to Hyathé and looked closely at what her foot had prodded against. It was the body of a dwarf soldier, hooded, in mail. Brenna looked in the direction of the road and realized that what the goblins had attacked was most likely a slow moving band of dwarfs trying to reinforce their human fellows. She offered a prayer of thanks for those who had so nobly lost their lives so far from home and looked again to their fallen comrade.
Besides him was a large dwarf musket, a blunderbuss Brenna believed it was called, and the rod for loading it was on the ground next to it. Brenna picked them up and slung them on her back. Her fingers nimbly and quietly plucked the bandolier of cartridges from around the dead dwarf’s shoulder and placed it around her own neck.
Seeing his still sheathed dagger, for a moment, she thought to hand it to Lily but things had not yet come to that point. The child would most likely be more of a danger to herself than any goblin wielding a dwarf warknife in the dark. No, thought Brenna, and she tucked the knife into her belt. Brenna took up the rope again and they made their way across the clearing and away from the goblins.
When they could no longer hear the goblins and Hyathé gestured it was safe to return to the road, Brenna breathed a sigh of relief. She couldn’t tell how Hyathé was certain the goblins wouldn’t come down the road after them, but she trusted the elf’s superior senses. Slowly, Brenna could make out forms on the ground on the road ahead.
As they grew nearer, it was obvious that these were local peasants and townspeople who had tried to flee the goblin menace and had failed. Brenna turned and looked to Lily on the horse but she was asleep in Hyathé’s arms. Brenna felt better that the child should not see such carnage.
Hyathé leaned down to Brenna and offered her hand. “Gil,” she said. “Come.”
Brenna looked at her incredulously for a moment but Hyathé repeated herself.
Brenna shrugged and mounted the horse behind Hyathé and they began to pick up the pace, riding further and further into the night towards the towns closer to the capitol.
A few hours ride placed the moon low on the horizon and Brenna didn’t know how many miles between her and the coast. Riding blind on a horse through the countryside during the middle of a goblin invasion was less than comforting, she thought.
Hyathé pulled the horse off the road and stopped. She handed Lily to Brenna and hopped down from the horse. She was looking much better Brenna thought, though she still seemed a bit weak.
“Gil,” she said again, her arms open wide.
Brenna handed Lily’s still sleeping form to Hyathé who placed her on the ground as Brenna got down from the horse. Lily slept quietly with her thumb in her mouth as the elf maiden climbed a tree and pointed in the distance. Brenna slung her weapons and the bandolier off from around her neck and back and left them on the ground to climb the tree.
She could just barely make out flickering lights in the distance and something that looked like pennants in the pre-dawn haze. A human town! One that was still defended!
She looked to Hyathé and smiled. The elf maiden was smiling herself. The two of them dropped out of the tree and retrieving Lily and Brenna’s weapons and gear continued towards the town. Hyathé took the horse off the road and Brenna, without uttering a word, came to the conclusion that she was making sure if there were goblin scouts watching the entrances and exits to the town, but they did not find them. The morning fog rolled in as they made their way through sparse trees off the road in the direction of their salvation.
The haze in the east began to grow brighter as dawn approached. There was a faint crackling sound in the distance before them and Hyathé stopped the horse. The wind shifted and the fog cleared from before them for a moment. Brenna could see that they were at one end of a clearing and at the other end were — goblins!
A large pack of greenskinned goblins, armed with short bows and scimitars, and in their midst was a huge goblin astride an equally huge giant wolf. Lily started to stir and Brenna held her fast. The three of them froze hoping the goblins hadn’t seen them.
Suddenly one of the goblins raised a barbarous cry and lifted his weapon towards the edge of the clearing where they sat astride the horse. His fellows snapped up their heads to look at what he was screeching about. Brenna pulled the string attached to her trident to drop it to the ground so she could maneuver better and slid off the horse taking Lily with her.
Hyathé nocked and loosed her first arrow towards the goblin patrol. The other scimitar-armed goblins, seeing the movement, lifted their weapons and began to race across the clearing. The goblin pack leader screeched in goblintongue to the archers who began to nock arrows in their short bows even as one of them fell to the
ground with an elf arrow in his neck.
Brenna pushed Lily behind a tree with one arm and began to unsling the dwarf blunderbuss with the other. She had only seen such a weapon in use once, when one of the swordmistresses of the order had brought back a similar weapon used by the Wako pirates of the far east. She pulled out a cartridge from the dwarf’s bandolier, bit the end of it off and upended the powder down the muzzle of the long, cumbersome weapon.
Lily stuck her head out from behind the tree to see the goblins and Brenna just managed to grab her and pull her back as several goblin arrows landed all around them. Dropping the lead ball down the muzzle of the dwarf weapon, Brenna was about to reach for and pull free the ramrod from along the top of the blunderbuss when a small round object with a burning length of cord attached to it landed on the ground next to her.
She stood there for a moment, contemplating it before she realized with a start, first — it was a weapon — second, it was called a grenade and would produce a prodigious flame and third, that the goblins had thrown it far too early. Brenna kicked the grenade back towards the goblins even as another landed on the opposite side of her.
Lily picked it up and held it towards Brenna. In a near panic, Brenna snatched the grenade from the child, its fuse still burning, and threw it back towards the goblins.
There were two thunderous blasts and gouts of fire burst in the center of the clearing. The goblin swordsmen were thrown back by the force of them and Brenna, peering around the tree, could see the enraged goblin leader spurring his mount forward to charge.
Brenna pulled up the ramrod from off the blunderbuss and rammed the paper cartridge down into the weapon. The sound of a loosed arrow and a goblin cry of pain let her know that Hyathé was still in the fight. Goblin footfalls let her know she was out of time. Brenna pulled the ramrod free of the blunderbuss and let it fall to the forest floor.
Holding the dwarf weapon with her left hand alone, she drew the dwarf warknife from her belt with her right hand. She stepped back from the tree both to give herself more room to fight and make herself more of a target for the goblins so that Lily would be less of one.
Goblin swordsmen, wielding their curved scimitar blades, raced around the tree from both sides. Brenna flowed as her training had instructed her, swinging the warknife in an arcing feint towards the goblin on her right while stepping back and away from the goblin on her left, his scimitar sliced through the morning air where she had been standing but a moment before. With the adversary on her right falling back, she upended the dwarf warknife and threw it at the other goblin, the fine blade embedded itself deep into the goblin’s neck. The goblin warrior gave a throttled cry as thick green blood spurted from his neck. Brenna took another step back, evading the strike of the goblin on her right and then reversed the move smashing the butt of the dwarf blunderbuss against his unarmored head, sending him reeling.
A brace of goblin arrows raced through the air, nearly striking her in the head. Lily broke and ran from behind the tree away from the goblin warriors into the forest.
“The archers! Kill the archers!” Brenna shouted.
The goblin leader was nearly on top of her; he was green muscled fury atop a mount that bespoke war-lust and ferocity. The giant wolf advanced on Brenna by great bounds, bearing the huge goblin on its back like it was no burden at all. The goblin warleader issued a loud and fearsome cry as he lifted his axe on high.
Brenna dropped to one knee, braced the dwarf weapon against her shoulder, pulled back the hammer, aimed as best she could for the giant wolf whose open mouth was scant feet from her face, and fired.
A plume of fire issued forth from the dwarf weapon and a thunderous report.
Brenna felt a sharp pain in her shoulder and the blunderbuss went flying out of her grasp. The sound of the detonating black powder was met with the nearly equally loud crack as the giant wolf’s head was torn almost entirely free from its shoulders and its carcass, and the goblin warleader crashed into the forest floor. Brenna took up her saber as two more goblin warriors advanced on her. The goblins, through possessed of great strength and unmatched savage ferocity, had little in the way of formal sword combat training. Brenna stepped into the first one, parrying his blow with her saber and issuing him a backhanded blow to the face with her left hand. She swung back on her left leg as the second goblin advanced on her, screaming, and neatly removed his head when he lifted his scimitar high in both hands to try to cleave her in twain. The first goblin had recovered and she met his blade with hers, and twisting her blade, riposted on his stroke and sliced him a diagonal blow across the midsection, cutting through leather armor and goblin flesh alike. The goblin fell back to the ground screaming and crawling for cover.
The mighty goblin warleader was the only goblin Brenna could see now. He lifted his axe and took a stance like a bull preparing to charge. He began his advance on Brenna, his muscles bulging as they propelled him forward, his feet pounding into the sod with every footfall as he raced towards her.
Brenna looked up to the rising dawn and cried out, “Draya — aid me!”
Brenna stood ready to face the foe before her knowing her goddess stood with her.
The goblin’s advance was powerful, but crude. Brenna sidestepped it easily and spun on her heel, preparing for counterattack. It was only then that Brenna realized, she was not the target of the warleader’s charge.
The huge goblin warrior plowed forward like a bull into a tree behind Brenna and with its roots pulled free from the life-nourishing earth with a snap, the tree began to fall over. Brenna could see Hyathé, perched on one of the branches of the tree as the tree began to fall but Hyathé made no move to jump clear of the tree or tumble to safety but instead, with an arrow still nocked, as the tree was falling with her in it, loosed one last arrow at the goblin warrior and struck him in his left eye.
The tree crashed down to the ground, pinning Hyathé beneath it and Brenna could not tell how badly the elf maiden had been wounded, or even if Hyathé still lived.
A terrifying howl issued forth from the throat of the wounded warleader and he advanced on Hyathé’s fallen form with the clear intention of finishing her off. Brenna leapt forward, an ancient battle cry on her lips, and she flung herself at him. The warleader turned just as Brenna struck him a glancing blow with a flying kick, knocking him away from Hyathé. Brenna tumbled and spun to her feet just as the giant axe chopped deep into the earth where she had fallen. Instead of fear, Brenna found herself filled only with courage and resolve.
“I am Brenna of the Order of Ship and Star and you shall not feed on elf-flesh this day, monster!” Brenna stood ready and with her saber poised to receive the warleader’s assault.
Feet pounding into the soil, the warleader charged again, raising his axe with both arms, muscles bulging. Brenna sprung forward, racing in on him, slashing downwards at his leg, throwing her weight to her right leg to propel herself to her left. Spinning on her left leg, she slashed at his chest and tumbled away from the giant goblin as his axe crashed into the ground, sending chunks of grass and soil flying. The goblin wrenched the huge steel weapon free from the earth and swung it with all his strength horizontally at Brenna.
Brenna bent like a reed back on herself, avoiding the murderous blow but was caught when the goblin warleader continued his charge to fall on top of her. Brenna folded her legs against him as the two of them crashed to the forest floor. The yellowed teeth of the fearsome goblin shone as he smiled with Brenna trapped under him, and he snorted his joy and derision at her through his nostrils.
Brenna called on the strength of her goddess and though she screamed with the pain of it, straining for all she was worth, managed to kick the huge goblin off of her and send him reeling back as she took to her feet. Even though it took a moment for the goblin to regain his own feet, Brenna did not advance. Several of her ribs had been broken in the fall and the pain was intense. But, panting for breath, she held her ground.
For Lily’s sake, for Hyathé’s sake, as well as her own, she had to.
Realizing the giant two-handed battle axe was too unwieldy for this prey, the huge goblin warleader drew two scimitars from his waist, holding them in his oversized, swollen fists as though they were but daggers and ran towards Brenna.
Brenna thought to keep him off balance again and moved to match his charge but as she struck out at him this time, both the goblin’s blades met hers and kept her saber from striking true. Flexing his huge muscles, the goblin easily flung her back. Continuing to advance on her position, the goblin slashed at her with one and then the other blade.
Brenna parried the first slash but not the second, which scored a grazing cut across the back of her shoulder. A cry of pain loosed itself unbidden from her lips. The goblin swung at her, again and again and again, all the while Brenna fell back from him until with one mighty blow, one of the goblin’s scimitars knocked her saber free from her grasp altogether and it went flying, end over end, into the forest.
Brenna took to her heels and ran, the warleader right behind her and she flung herself back towards the edge of the clearing where the battle had first begun. Brenna collapsed to the ground and just as the fearsome goblin propelled himself forward to again crush her to the forest floor, without looking in his direction, lifted up her trident from the grass and braced its blunt end against the earth.
The trident’s prongs punctured the goblin deep in his chest as his own momentum carried him into the weapon and he impaled himself on it. Brenna leaned back and the huge goblin fell over to one side, dead.
Brenna raced over to Hyathé and found her still breathing. She returned to the fallen goblin and pulled free the trident and placing it under the tree, rolled it to one side as Hyathé pushed. The elf maiden free, the pair of them panted for breath and smiled in celebration of their victory.
“Lily!” Brenna shouted and stood up looking around the clearing. Lily was nowhere to be found.
“Lily!” she cried. And again and again.
Hyathé, more slowly than Brenna had managed to get to her feet and call out to Lily. But there was no response. The two warrior women searched the forest in the direction that Lily had fled. Brenna found her crouched behind a rock, crying and rocking back and forth.
“Lily,” she said quietly, “its all right. The goblins are gone.”
Lily all but jumped into Brenna’s arms and cried and cried and cried. Brenna’s own tears rolled down her cheeks so happy she was to have found Lily unharmed. Brenna prayed to Draya and gave thanks for their victory and their lives.
Making her way back to Hyathé, with Lily in her arms, Brenna found the horse on her way to the clearing and helped Lily back on to it. Brenna saw to her wounds and Hyathé’s as best she could and then set the elf maiden on the horse as well.
Hyathé pointed to the fallen goblins and said a single word, “Eril.” Bow.
Brenna saw that Hyathé’s longbow had been broken in the impact when the tree fell on her and smiled, nodding. No doubt the elf warrior felt naked without a bow. Brenna could understand that. Retrieving her own weapons and the dwarf blunderbuss, Brenna picked up one of the goblins’ shortbows and took one of their quivers, filling it with arrows and brought the bow and the quiver to Hyathé.
Hyathé frowned, disapprovingly, of the crudely fashioned goblin weapon and the arrows alike but nodded communicating her understanding it couldn’t be helped. Brenna smiled and began to lead the horse towards the human town.
The town guards spotted them as soon as they broke free from the edge of the forest. They identified themselves and were granted permission to enter the town. Their arrival was hailed as a sign the tide was changing, for no one would have thought that two lone warriors with a child could have made it through the goblin lines to safety. Some refused to believe their story at all, at least until Brenna produced the trophy she had taken from the goblins, the fearsome giant wolf’s head. The severed head of such a mighty creature dispelled all the townspeople’s doubts and Brenna and Hyathé were hailed as heroes.
Hyathé’s elfin kin were there, in small number, in the town and they took her down from the horse to treat her wounds properly. As the elfs loaded Hyathé onto a litter to take her to their healer, Hyathé stretched out a hand in Brenna’s direction and spoke,”Meremyn.” Sister.
Brenna smiled, nodding, and repeated the moonspeech word as she took Hyathé’s hand and shook it warmly.
The elfs carried Hyathé away. Brenna watched them bear her away as Lily waved.
Brenna lifted Lily onto her shoulder as Lily shook with silent giggles and went towards the commander’s tent to report.
I hope you enjoyed this fantasy short story by Brandon Black.
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