One day of despair
Our first reaction was numbness, then fear. We did not understand, or, rather accept, what was going on. Goblins had taken us. They were overtaken with joy. Even the goblin called Zicky, in pain as my stone had hurt his wrist, shouted in pure joy. But we ignored if that meant good or bad news for us.
We were a sad bunch of youngsters. None of us have reached sixteen years. I, Zary, was fourteen but felt stronger, perhaps because I had less to lose. Osa, Conda, Erico and Odrián, my clients, were all posh kids from Recuervos, with loving families and a —to that date— confident approach to adventure. For my part I was sort of an orphan and in need of any job I could find. But we had been made all equal by the straps that bound our hands behind our backs, the drench, and the smelly goo marsh that had got all over our bodies.
As soon as the goblins were done with their celebrations, their leader addressed us. Bear in mind that his use of our language was rather peculiar, mixing some goblin and dwarf words in it, but I will, instead, adapt it into a more ordinary speech, for it would be next to impossible for you to understand without his gestures. Even with those, it was not easy for us.
“Glorious loot!,” he called us. “I am Tinytusks, but you must call me Chieftain. My warriors are all “boss“ to you. We don't want to kill you. We don't want to hurt you. We are taking us to the Great Chieftain of the Four Corners of the World. If you are not humble you will know the fury of an orc king. So, be humble and do what I tell you. Kneel before me if you understand.”
I knelt at once, do not ask me why. Osa did so right after me. But the rest stood up, defiantly. Tinytusks smiled and ordered his men to paint the throat of the disobedients with goblin ochre. As soon as Erico has his neck paint this had the desired effect and they all knelt as once.
They led us to their hut. This was located on the Wetti Lake, near the birth of the Riomuertos river. We would spend the night outside it, in constant watch. First, they took everything from us, but our pants, boys and girls and alike. No protest, no crying, no solemn acceptance changed anything. Lastly, they shacked our ankles with rings of dwarf steel. These were not linked by a chain —though have the provision to be so— but were heavy enough to make running an exhausting proposition. In any how, we were so tired already, that we slept under their thick blankets that kept us warm even in the everlasting rain.
I woke up to burning wrists and numb fingers, and to be made to walk, still in torpor, to a barge. There, our hands were freed so that we could take the rows. Tinytusks and other six goblins would be rowing with us too. These six were Ivmeasec, Ahem, and Loglegs —the heroes that found us but for Zicky that was to remain in the hut on account of being hurt— plus three female goblins: Tuist, Foggy and Djodjy. Now, female goblin being as muscular and short as male goblins are, it's not easy to tell one from the other, specially if armed. But it all became clear when they, a bit mischeviously, asked Osa and Conda if they could join Team Girls.
The goblin barge was, contrary to what you might have presumed, well built and safe in these calm waters. It was quite flat, so it could be used not only on the lake, but, as much as it was possible, on the marshes. If there was something I disliked about it, besides being our temporary prison, it was that —from the perspective of the crow— looked like a coffin.
Te rest of the goblins loaded the barge with foodstuffs and what had been our belongings, clothes and all, but the pants we were wearing. The mule too, was left at the shore, calm, which gave me some hope. At least, she didn't see any imminent threat in our captors. That instant I wished to be like her, but humans are born to freedom.
An orc thinks I am cute
There would be not much to be said of our first day if we were to reduce it to simple terms. It was but a long day of rowing northwards, following closely the shore, under waves of rain, interleaved with short burst of radiant sunlight. Our captors were quite used to this weather but we could swear demons were torturing us. We stopped only to drink, not to eat, much of the dismay of my companions of misfortune. As most of the gentry they were unused of people eating but once a day, as they had always had three meals. The goblins were always singing and talking, quite loudly, as if celebrating the coming of summer; none was louder that our chieftain, very glad to have us.
It was past midday when we arrived to the Village of Wetti, at the center of the northern shore of the Wetti lake, and surrounded by the arms of the mouth of the Wetti river. North of it lay the ruins of ancient dwarf city, but at the time we did not guess what it was. As for the village, it was circled by two rings of pallisades, with a row of wooden watchtowers between them. Inside there could be, perhaps, a few less that one hundreed buildings, with a hall in the middle of it. That would become our home for the night.
We approached the beach relieved to see the end of our effort, but wary of what could be our fate. The settlement, thankfully, was but an ordinary farming community. Many goblins were at the fields: these we believed to be of different races, judging by the color of their skins, including many of shades of green, like in the stories. Conda, whom I always believed to be the smarter, if a bit snobbier of our lot, was overtaken by this sight, much to our captors' amusement. “Green goblins! Green goblins! It is true, true indeed!” She shouted, as if that knowledge could make our situation any better.
Once at the beach, Tinytusks made us form in single file, combed our hair, and made us march slowly as the local goblins, kids first, then adults, rushed to greet him. I could not understand, then, their language, but it was evident that they were proud of their accomplishment, which could not be other than our capture. It is an odd situation to know that our anguish was the cause of the happinnes of so many people. In fact, I could not help but to join in the mood myself, and so was the case for Osa, Conda, Erico and Odrián. But then, the orcs came.
Each and every goblin village has, at least, one orc family, which rules over them. On these lands, orcs largely live in towns, with a minority of goblins and some other races, either free or slaves; but they rule everywhere, sometimes brutally, other times less so. Wetti's Orc Lord was of the second variety. He looked old to me, but then I was a kid, athletic, a head taller than an elf and almost as wide as a dwarf. His skin was as dun as Tinytusks', but his face was much more brutal, his eyes —black and orange like an owl— made you wish for a quick end. Behind him walked his family: husband, wife, second wife, second husband, two young teenaged girls, and a boy. All his other kids, I learned that night, were overseeing the crops.
As they arrived, Tinytusks made us stand still, arms stuck to our sides and wait. The great orc came to the first kid in our file, who happened to be Osa, and roared like a wounded beast. The he grabbed the girl's trembling arms —she shrieked— held and raised her body until her sodden feet reached the height of his eyes. He repeated the ritual for each one of us.
When my turn came I understood the cause of Osa's tears. He gripped my arms with much more force than necessary, to the point of pain, and then raised me up as a kid. This was, I gather, to instill fear in us and respect in the goblins.
The ritual was then repeated by each member of his family, but with weaker and weaker strength. Finally, the boy came. He tried but could not raise up neither of us, and I could see the humilliation in his eyes. So when the kid grabbed me, I gave a small hop, but then he could hold my weight for two proud seconds.
Dinner on the dirt
Life returned to, let's say, a more “normal” pace right after that, but it took us long to return to our senses. And so, we somehow found ourselves in the main hall, where a feast was improvised to honor Tinytusks and his motley heroes. They were welcomed at the main table with the orcs, in the very center of the hall. Everybody else, perhaps everybody in the village, was sitting around them, further and further from the center, in humbler and humbler tables, the poorer they were.
We were made to sit in a corner, on the dirt floor. We were served a kind of odd goblin porridge made of something they call “hofio”. This is cereal, mix of cereals, or just any suitable replacement, toasted then grinded, mixed whit salt and whatever else is locally prefered: lard, butter, herbs, friend onions, leftovers from the pot and just about anything, and then cooked in a miriad of ways.
With us there were ten green skinned goblins which were about our age, though smaller than us. I grant you these were rowdy, despite their obvious exhaustion, that late in the day, but behaved with us kindly. We didn't talk much. Mainly because we were all hungry and our hofio was filling, even if bland —it was just barley. But also because we had learnt but four words in Goblin and they didn't know much of ours either.
The highlight of the day came right after the Orc Lord made some speech honoring our chieftain. Oh how proud he was and what an odd reaction I had. Osa, Conda, Erico and Odrián seemed from angry to indiferent to the whole thing, but I could not help but to look up on Tinytusks. I guess, in my hopeless way, I longed for a father. Oh, this could not be, but, for an instant… Well, anyway, the thing is a slave goblin came from the main table and dropped on my hofio a bit of some meat, let's call it, fat squirrel. I raised my head: the other slave kids were amazed at the very special treatment I was getting and the one who served me pointed at the Orc Lord who winked at me. I bowed in return, which made Tinytusks proud. Who would have guessed it? Orcs can be thankful.
Lord of lash
Our journey continued the next morning: back to rowing, back to the rain and new blisters on our hands. This was followed what promised to be just another welcome at another goblin village, Qú, star, in the language of goblins.
Qú laid, at the very north of the Wetty lake. Again we were displayed, but the Orc Lord of this town was much harsher than the Lord of Wetty, to the point of… no, I am not telling that.
I am only brute enough to say, and that must suffice, that, at nightfall, Tinytusks ordered his warriors to carry us back to the barge, and continue our journey well into the night. This they could do because the Wetty Lake is linked to the Uda via a canal, dug by elves æons ago, and we followed it, safer than in any road..
The goblins did the rowing while we cowered in pain, &mash;and that must tell you something— The orc lash had not been kind.. There you have it, I said it. At some point I recovered the strength to sit up and get myself to the row, but Loglegs, the goblin, forbid me to, kindly,, and Tinytusks ordered us all to disembark and set up camp.
We rested to the next sunset; though it was an uneasy time for Tinytusks set up a picket, Foggy and Djodjy. I gather that with our rescue he had displeased the Lord of Qú and that could mean his death or worse. I reckon that, as everything went quiet, the Lord just did not bother to pursue us. In any case that day he made up all sort of excuses for the Lord of Qú. That if Osa had not looked at the Lord right in the eyes, he would had been more considerate; that the moon was next to the blood star; that the Lord had drunk too much and ate too little and so much and so forth. Finally, he reminded us that we were not people, but loot, talking chattel and nothing more, that we consider ourselves lucky to be alive.
At the time I did not understand why he chose to defend that beast. In time, I would learn that goblin mothers give similar advice to their children: do not challenge the orc, do not resist the orc, bow before them, be a coward. So why did he risk all to protect us? Had it happened today I would not need to make myself that question, but as it happened that long ago, I do not know, but I am sure he had another plan and changed it in an instant.
When we continued our journey, Tinytusks did not need to issue a command. We knew what we had to do it and we did it gladly. Wherever he was taking us it was probably better than running around the goblin hills, hoping to find some way south. No, if you, or your children, were to fall prisoner to these, tell them to escape, but only with a good plan based on solid knowledge.
Udachi, where the Orc King sets the fate of the world (and mine)
The end came at Udachi. This was a full-fledged goblin town, larger than Recuervos. We did not land directly on it, but on a small beach, a short walk from its walls. We unloaded everything, then Tinytusks addressed us.
“Do not fear. I am taking you to the King and he'll choose your future. A good one would be to work in the kitchen, it's warm and there's always food around. A fatty slave? It always works in a kitchen. A sad future? The mines, but don't worry, dwarfs made them, so they are safe. But now, with all the lashing you don't look strong enough, so be a little humble, and it will all go nicely”.
“Can't you just let us escape?” The absurd question came from Erico, who was proving to be the most freedom loving among us.
“Escape? You should have done that before we got you. Better, you should had remained at home. When orcs and goblins come to the places where humans live, you hunt us and kill us and make us slaves, as that is what you should do because we go there to steal your gold and snatch your children and anything else we can carry”.
“But we didn't go to do anything of that.“ Erico sounded like a little boy.
“So why did you come to our lands, boy?“
“For the adventure, we just wanted to see the land and have fun, as boy do. It's true! I swear!”
Tinytusks smiled in disbelief and told his warrior to tie us up, as his only reply.
One change of plans or two
Tinytusks did not get a welcoming comitee at the gate. Those orcs or goblins who were interested in slaves followed some dwarf merchants led by the very charismatic Shabazmund, who displayed a line of some 46 slaves, half of them goblins, a few orcs, the rest human, but all well-fed and well shackled adults.
It was a relief not to be the center of attention for a while. At most a couple of orc urchins yelled some names and us together with some indecent gestures, but Tinytusks sent them away at the point of a spear. Right after that the palace appeared before us and that would be it, we would be facing our fate, but…
“You, you come with me.” Tinytusks said pointing at me and then to his warriors: “Kept the others watched, I have a better plan.”
The kids protested, the goblins protested even more, but it was no use. I, for my part, said nothing.
We detached ourselves from the rest of the party and we were about to enter the palace yard, Tinytusks turned to me. “Boy, what was your name again?”
“Nice… and if you can answer this question with the truth in your heart, it might turn your life for the better: is your family rich? And, will they pay to have you back?”
“Mother's dead, father said I was a leech and was happy to see me go.”
“Oh…” He paused. “Oh, you are telling the truth. Rats! my plan is gone!
I could not end my sentence: four burly orc guards pushed us in. “You are making the king wait, rat!” And by rat they meant my chieftain; to them I was nothing.
We were led to some narrow stairs, then to a winding corridor, and, finally, to a large room, where the King of the Orcs was having his second lunch. He was huge, but not obese, a feat I attribute to magic, as he had devoured the contents of four plates already, not to mention the flasks of beer.
The room was carpeted in animal fur, the walls filled with paintings of mixed quality, from human masters to halfling apprentices, so that not a single stone of the walls could be seen. Four fireplaces heated the chamber, and the slaves who rushed around, the guards, and even the friends and concubines of the orc king were covered in sweat.
As we entered the room, a guard threw me into the ground. She then undid my bounds and told me to kneel as my chieftain waited. That took an hour.
“Well-come, my dear… oh, Twistusks, is it? Is this your first loot? How cute it is. But tell me, why have you not brought the others to me?”
“The other four kids. I have guards and they tell me things.”
“Oh, I thought it would be better to bring them to you one by one.”
“Why? Well, this one is the great Zary, you see, the most important”
“It… will tell you, itself, my great King.” And he looked at me, like pleading for his life, that I would come up with something.
“Speak, boy, or I'll have you as a steak.” Our great King thought that to be funny and everyone but Tinytusks laughed.
”My King, I am only a slave…”
“You aren't. You are a captive. I'll decide if you can be a slave or a bandit to be hung from a cross.”
“Sorry… but I know how you could earn money. Those other kids, their parents are wealthy and they trade in spices some from lands far away —that was not honest to the Goddess true— and you could trade them away.”
“Oh, my father hates me, I have no value on myself, but the major would receive me” —I felt no scruple lying to this king.
“So, you think I should let you go and come back with an army?”
“I would like that, but I know you cannot let me, it would be too easy for me to escape”— I was trying to think fast, “but you could write them a letter asking your price.”
“Then, I don't need you.” He laughed and added.“Very well Tinytusk, this smart kitty you can keep as your slave, do with it as you see fit. As for the others, I'll keep them captives until I receive the ransom. Then, I'll have another mission for you and your warriors. Oh, and, you can prefix your name with a “sir”.
Tinytusks drunk with joy almost, al-most, kissed me.