The Wolf Pack. Homewards

newcoverwolfpackFirst of all, may I apologise for this post being a little late. Lots to do hqving just got back from holiday. I hope you enjoy it.

HOBGOBLINS

The next morning, they left the vicinity of the tombs. Muldee told them that they should follow the northern side of the lake as the exit they wanted the exit on that side of the valley and so they duly followed him. He alternated between flying and walking, but he walked rather slowly, so he started riding on one or the other’s shoulders. They put up with this as he not very heavy, and he did not stay long before taking off again. When he landed on Davrael’s shoulders, he suddenly jumped making Davrael curse.
‘Asphodel,’ the dragonet called to the elf, ‘This helm of Davrael’s is magic. It startled me when I felt it. I didn’t expect it.’
‘How can you tell?’ she asked him.
‘Made me feel funny,’ he said.
‘Can you always tell if something is magical?’ she continued.
The dragonet looked surprised. ‘Of course,’ he replied, ‘Good magic or bad. Each feels different.’
‘What about the other things we got from the tomb?’
He touched each item in turn and confirmed that they were all magical in some way, and that it was not bad magic.
‘All we need to know now is what kind of magic they have,’ said Randa when Asphodel had told them what Muldee was doing. ‘We’ve no idea what they do.’
They followed Muldee’s directions and found that they were heading much further north than they would have thought, but the little creature assured them that this was the only way out.
‘All the branches towards the south are dead ends,’ he told Asphodel when she asked about the direction. ‘I told you that you needed me to find your way.’
The dragonet had begun to learn Grosmerian. He learned quickly. He experimented by trying to get into the minds of the companions. Unknown to the group, dragonets had a certain talent for telepathy. He discovered that Thadora and Asphodel were the easiest for him to read, but he found Basalt almost impossible. This talent made his learning of Grosmerian all the easier. One day he surprised Thadora by managing to speak to her telepathically. It frightened the girl at first, but she became used to it, and even managed to respond. She did not seem very happy about the idea of the little creature “rummaging around in me ’ead at me most private thoughts,” as she put it, so Muldee said he would teach her how to shield her own thoughts and also promised not to pry. This seemed to help Thadora come to terms with the idea of telepathic speech.
Two days after beginning their journey from the valley, they came to a place where it narrowed, passing between cliffs on either side. A stream flowed along the bottom, and a few trees managing to cling to the banks. By now, many of them were looking a very pretty shade of pale green as they burst into leaf. Birds were well on the way with their nesting, and many animals were giving birth. They were all walking along and feeling very pleased with themselves when suddenly Randa felt a tingling from the Sword at her hip, and from the sides of the valley, where they had been hidden from view by the rocks and bushes, sprang a couple of dozen hobgoblins.
Randa drew her Sword and began to fight, as did the others. Carthinal quickly gave the command to his staff to set armour on himself and then sent a ball of multicoloured light at one of the hobgoblins which blinded him as well as causing injury, followed by some missiles from his staff. The others were all fighting strongly, but in vain as they were too greatly outnumbered. Even Asphodel struck out with her mace, which she had hardly used since she had acquired it from the temple before leaving Hambara. She even managed to do some damage to the enemy while avoiding damaging her companions. When they were eventually all captured, they found there were only fourteen of the hobgoblins standing, and some of those were bleeding.
‘We made them hurt though!’ whispered a voice in Carthinal’s ear, sounding strangely satisfied. He turned his head and it surprised him to see Asphodel standing next to him, her arms tied behind her and an uncharacteristically savage expression on her face.
A rough voice, obviously the leader of the ambush party, said something in a strange, guttural language, and they were searched and their weapons removed. They looked over to a large hobgoblin dressed in chain mail. He stood well over six feet, with a typically animalistic hobgoblin face with tusks reaching up from his lower jaw. His eyes were brown, but had a hard, cruel look, and his mouth seemed to be in a permanent sneer. His men were obviously afraid of him and obeyed him with alacrity. The other hobgoblins were smaller and were wearing leather armour reinforced with metal studs. They all had cross-bows and melee weapons, some with axes, some with war hammers, some even had short swords and all looked as though he knew how to use his weapon of choice.
The hobgoblin that tried to remove the Sword from Randa, quickly dropped it, and ran around blowing on his hand. He had obviously been burned by the Sword’s defence mechanism. The leader ordered another of the creatures to pick it up, but he failed. The Sword was just too heavy. He dragged it with the help of a second of the hobgoblins to the leader of the gang. The leader looked at the two, and then at Randa and said something scathing, judging by the looks of his two men.
Fero had managed to pick up a little hobgoblin on his travels, and he whispered to the others. ‘He says they must be weaker than a mouse if they cannot lift a sword wielded so effortlessly by a mere woman.’
Randa looked incensed at being called a “mere woman”, and almost responded when the leader came up to them. He kicked out at Randa and caught her on the ankle. She refrained from crying out, and just managed to stay on her feet.
‘You not be hurt if you not fight,’ he said in a harsh voice. ‘Where your pet?’
Carthinal frowned, then realised that he was talking about Muldee. Carthinal shrugged and the hobgoblin hit him across the mouth, for his insolence, so he said.
‘No matter. It only small creature. It probably run away. Must be afraid of mighty hobgoblins. Would have made good sale though. Bring lot of money for Khland. Khland take Sword for own. It do much damage to Khland’s men. It good Sword.’
He walked over to the Sword, and picked it up. It was no longer heavy, and Khland gave a disgusted look to the two who had dragged it to him. Randa did notice a wince, however, and after he had strapped on the sword round his waist, she caught him looking surreptitiously at his hand.
The hobgoblins marched the party along at a brisk pace, allowing no talk at all between them. Thadora wondered where Muldee had got to, but then decided he probably thought it was too dangerous in the world and had flown back to his siblings. Suddenly one of the hobgoblins at the rear of the line put his hand to his head and crumpled up in a heap, moaning about a loud noise in his brain. They stopped, and the leader, Khland, demanded to know why.
They held a hurried discussion in hobgoblin, which Fero tried to hear, but failed, and then one of them dispatched the injured creature an axe, stripped off his armour, weapons and money, and the column moved off again. This happened again during the day, and the hobgoblins repeated the same procedure.
That evening, they made camp in a barren place. They had been going steadily northwards since leaving the valley, and the mountains had given way to hills covered with heather. These moorland hills were bleak, and the east wind cut across them with an icy blast. There were little valleys with small streams in them, and every now and then, a rill joined a bigger stream, tumbling down through the heather in a series of little waterfalls. There were few trees here and what few there were, were poor stunted things that leaned away from the prevailing wind, which usually blew from the west and gave no shelter from the icy blast.
The hobgoblins set up a large tent for their commander, and while this went on, he amused himself by taunting the captives.
‘You be cold tonight,’ he told them. ‘Not possible to make fire. Heather burn easy. Too easy. You be hungry too. Have only small foods for you.’
‘Why have you captured us? Where are you taking us?’ demanded Randa imperiously.
‘You not speak to Khland unless told,’ and he kicked her in the stomach.
She doubled up in pain, tears springing unbidden to her eyes, but she was determined not to let them fall and give Khland the satisfaction that he had hurt her, so she straightened as best she could and, with her most proud look, gave him a disdainful glare. Khland raised his foot to kick her again when one of the hobgoblin patrol came up and said something to him.
He said to Randa, ‘Wait till later. Khland hurt you then. Not damage badly though. Orders not to, but no orders not to hurt you.’ With that he strode off to where the others had erected his tent.
The Wolves stood and stared after Khland.
‘If he touches you again,’ said Fero, ‘I swear I’ll kill him myself. Somehow.’
‘’Ow, wi’ yer ’ands bleedin’-well tied and no weapons?’ asked Thadora, somewhat scornfully, Fero thought.
‘I’ll find a way,’ snarled Fero, slumping to the ground. ‘I’ll not let him hurt any of you girls,’ he went on.
The others also sat down and eventually one of the hobgoblins placed a bowl of thin stew before them, with eight spoons dipped into it. He brought no bread.
‘How are we supposed to eat with our hand tied behind us?’ Carthinal complained.
‘I go ask,’ replied the hobgoblin, and disappeared towards the tent of his commander.
It seemed that they could do nothing without the permission of Khland. They watched as he spoke to the guards, and then Khland came out, said something to him and cuffed him around the head. The chastised creature came back and untied their hands, but tied their feet together, one left foot to the next person’s right. All except Carthinal. He had his feet tied as did the others, but his hands were not released.
‘Hands of mage stay tied so he not do magic,’ the hobgoblin soldier told them.
‘I’ll feed you some of this stuff if you want, Carthinal,’ said Kimi. (She sat between him and Davrael.
‘I’m tempted to say I don’t want any of it, but I suppose we should all eat something,’ he replied, ‘but goodness knows what it is. I’d rather not think about that.’
They ate, and afterwards, their hands were retied, but his time in front of them, except for Carthinal, whose hands remained as they were. A very cold wind blew around the hills, getting up more strongly as darkness fell. They could see a brazier around which the hobgoblins were sitting or lying down sleeping, and a light flickered in the tent of Khland showing that he too had some heating. They huddled together as best they could for warmth, but passed a very uncomfortable, cold and sleepless night.
The next day, they were all very tired. They were dragged roughly to their feet and made to march again, still over the rough moorland terrain. They were given nothing to eat this morning, and only a minimal drink of water. They stumbled on, each wondering whether they were more miserable now than they were in the mountains. At least in the mountains they had been free. They found it difficult to walk, as their feet were still tied and they found they stumbled frequently, much to the amusement of the hobgoblins.

Just as they stopped for a brief respite for the hobgoblins (but not their captives) to have a brief bite and drink, one of their number suddenly clasped his head. He said something that Fero translated as “Blinding headache.” Khland told him to get to his feet and to continue marching with the others. They almost felt sorry for him as he obviously felt very rough.
‘You should not drink so much while on the march,’ Khland told him. (Translated by Fero.) In reply, the afflicted creature moaned that he had hardly had any last night. The hobgoblin chief kicked him and told him to go ahead as a scout. Later in the day, they found his body lying in the heather, quite dead. As with the others, they stripped him and left him for the wild creatures.
‘Do you think it’s some disease that’s killing them?’ asked Kimi nervously.
‘Possibly,’ Asphodel speculated, ‘but it seems very quick acting. I’ve not heard of anything like it.’
‘Let’s just hope it only affects hobgoblins then,’ said Carthinal.
Later in the day it began to rain. A light drizzle only at first, but soon they were all wet through. The rain continued harder as the day progressed, and the captives were thoroughly miserable. The easterly wind continued and it seemed to go right through them, wet as they were. They could not talk any more as they were punched or kicked if they tried to communicate. They saw a creature flying high above them once or twice, but could not make it out clearly. Thadora hoped it was Muldee and that he could somehow get some help to them, but whenever it came lower, the hobgoblins fired bolts from their cross bows, and one came very close to hitting it and it flew away again.
In this manner the next day passed. That night, Fero began to shiver and sweat. He complained of aches and feeling unwell. Asphodel diagnosed ’flu, but she hoped secretly it was nothing worse. She demanded to see Khland, and when he eventually came to them at dawn, she expressed her view that Fero could not travel and that he needed rest and warmth to recover. Khland growled that they had no time. Fero must continue with them or be left for the wild beasts.
‘Have headache?’ Khland asked Fero.
‘I ache everywhere,’ the ranger replied.
‘You not got same illness as men?’ he asked.
Asphodel replied for Fero.
‘I’m sure it’s not. Your men had a headache and then dropped. Fero has a fever and aches all over. I’m sure it’s ’flu brought on by us being so cold and wet.’
‘We be at hobgoblin camp less than two more days. Only one more night on road.’ With that he hobbled back to his tent.
They had all noticed that he had started to limp rather badly and that he had still got Equilibrium strapped to his waist, and they each decided that the caused him some pain. They found a grudging admiration for the hobgoblin captain to endure such pain as they knew the Sword could inflict. Then the creature in the sky descended and drew their attention away from Khland. One of the hobgoblins raised his crossbow and took aim, but immediately he fell down clutching his head, unconscious. The other hobgoblins murmured among themselves, but one harsh look from Khland silenced them quickly.
‘Kill him and we go on,’ said Khland, and the others quickly complied.
They marched on for a while until Thadora felt what she later described as a “scratching in her brain.” She tried to make it go away, and it did indeed fade a little, but then it began again more forcefully, until she thought she could hear words in her head.
‘Stop blocking, silly girl.’
She looked around but could see no one.
‘It is me! Muldee!’ she heard. ‘I follow. I attack. I try chief next. He a big man. Hard to hurt. Others afraid. Think they have illness.’
She tried to think back to the little creature.
‘I ’ear yer, Muldee. You’re causing this “illness” in th’ bleedin’ ’obgoblins? ’Ow cool is that?’
‘Yes. I make loud noise in heads. It kill little creatures. Many dragonets together can kill bigger creature. One dragonet only hurt hobgoblins. Maybe it enough. I go. Mindspeak make me tired. Need strength for hurting.’
Thadora passed on what she could to the others, when no hobgoblins were looking so she would not get beaten. The news seemed to raise their hopes somewhat, even Fero, ill as he felt.
After about an hour, as they were marching along, Khland raised his hand to his head and stumbled, but he managed to regain his balance and limped on with a pained expression on his face. The rest of the party of hobgoblins looked at each other, then quickly away again.  After a few more miles, Khland again stumbled, this time falling to his knees. He allowed a groan to escape his lips, but he struggled to his feet and staggered off down the road. Almost immediately, Muldee landed in the heather ahead of them. Carthinal hoped that he had not landed too close to the hobgoblins, but they did not seem to notice as they were all looking anxiously at their leader, with, Carthinal thought, hope in their eyes. The heather rustled as the dragonet tried to get nearer to the hobgoblin leader, and then he again fell down, this time to lie face down on the track. He did not move. The other hobgoblins stood frozen for a few minutes and then one cautiously went forward and poked the immobile Khland. Still nothing. He came back to the others and said something in his own language. The hobgoblins held a brief discussion and then they came over to their captives and roughly searched them for any valuables, while two others went and systematically robbed Khland. The hobgoblins took all the gold the Wolves had on them, but left them their armour. Carthinal supposed they did not consider it valuable enough to be worth carrying the extra weight. The Wolves packs that they were carrying including group’s weapons, they dropped as they fled away from their captives and vicious leader.
After they were gone, Muldee appeared from the heather.
‘Hurry. He not dead, just unconscious. Must leave quickly.’
‘Thank you, but we can’t move well tied up like this,’ Carthinal told him. ‘Can you do anything to help us escape?’
‘I’ve spent time tryin’ ter work meself loose,’ came a response from Thadora, ‘An’ I think I’ve nearly succeeded in loosenin’ th’ rope enough ter slip me ’and out.’
‘I bite through rope too.’
Between them, they managed to get out of their bonds. They searched the hobgoblin leader and found no gold, but only the Sword. It seems the other hobgoblins had not dared to touch it. As Randa removed it from Khland, she noticed that his left leg looked as though it had frostbite and she felt a grudging admiration for the determination of the creature that he had continued to wear it in spite of a great deal of pain.
‘I think we should kill ’im,’ said Thadora. ‘After all, ’e bloody well ’urt us and wasted some of ’is own men when they was ’elpless. He’s a soddin’ brute.’
‘And make us as bad as he is?’ replied Asphodel. ‘No, Thadora. I will not kill a helpless creature, nor be party to such an action, even if he is an evil brute.’
So picking up their dropped packs, they set off down the road, free once more.

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