Part Three

Mbala sat behind the mother and her two mostly adult children.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust them. It was because he did not want to put his back to the sons because they really wanted to have his sword.

They were both big for their age. At almost six, they were about to enter adulthood and had already spent a year in warrior instruction. Each day they were given a sword and allowed to use it on each other. Thrust and hack. Sweep and strike. Learning the goblin dance.

In a matter of weeks, they would be placed on duty to scout the outer regions for trouble then either kill it or report it.

Or be killed.

He chewed on the rabbit leg he had been given. In his bowl was a thick mush of vegetables, rabbit bits and organs. If it didn’t have the mushroom it would have been better, but given his stomach was over overextended and bloated, he considered himself lucky to have the rare full feeling his body was engulfed in.

A full stomach, a roof over his head, a small yet warm fire giving off flicks and shimmers of light from the flames.

“How did you come across the rabbit? They are scarce in these parts.” he asked the boys.

“I shot it with my arrow” the eldest answered. “I only wounded it, so we had to chase it. It took a while but we eventually found it under a log.”

Mbala took another bite of the leg. Chewed it a bit then asked “When do you get your own sword?”

The elder one glowered a bit, flicking his eyes towards his mother to see if she was watching.

She was.

He answered “We come of age in a few more days.”

The younger one snarled a smile at Mbala, his eyes focused and intent on blood. If he was older he would have tried to take the sword again, but because he was still a child for a few more days he had to obey his mother or suffer the consequences of tribal punishments.

Every goblin knows the consequences of rule breaking.

Every goblin knows its place.

Every goblin is trying to improve it.

If they can get away with it.

Mbala was enjoying this night.

He remembered the impatience of wanting to grow up, of getting his first sword and the dreams of mastering the beasts in the forest, of killing the Goblin King and holding his head high in the air while the other goblins cheered in fear and loathing because they were not powerful enough to do it themselves.

Then he recalled that first night after adulthood. Hiding in the bushes with the rain pouring down and being thankful for it because, if it had been a dry night, those stupid dogs and their human masters would have found him and slaughtered him in moments. The dogs passed so close he could hear them sniffing for him, their jowls hungry for the hunt, with teeth showing and eyes eager.

Just remembering that moment was enough to have his mouth go dry in fear. He casually sipped some more water.

“Fryer, the mushrooms have given the stew that little bit of extra touch to an already wonderful meal” Mbala lied. She nudged him in the side as a friendly thank you. Her red eyes shining with pride. He felt happy as well, with a tinge of sadness that his duties took him away from this wife so often. And that seeing her meant begging and bribing his way into the door.

Then he heard the unmistakable sound of the alarm horn. It always started with a single horn. The more goblins that considered the threat serious, the more goblins would blow their alarm. The louder the sound, the worse the problem. Sometimes the sound would become so loud that it began to buzz like a thousand giant flies attacking your head.

Mbala heard the first one blowing somewhere within the warren, slightly unusual in itself. It was some distance off but definitely inside. One horn only, nothing major, probably a kid being stupid and about to be given a public whipping for it.

The boys did not hear the first one, they were preoccupied with their sword envy. That is why they need training. Too many first-year adults still die in the forest because they fail to learn the art of listening.

No awareness, no idea of what danger is, and little idea of how to deal with it when it presents itself as a sword hacking present.

The second horn started to blow.

Mbala knew that the second horn meant significant trouble. He was sure it was trouble because the last time two horns sounded within the walls, there was a revolution taking place.

The Rise of the Goblin King happened on that night. Mbala was the one who blew the second horn while he bared down his sword on the first attacker of the upcoming Goblin King. The head he struck slit in two, exposing the brain and spitting blood into his mouth.

Now the third horn was blowing.

Even the twins heard that. Fryer did as well, her look was traumatic and held a certain pleading for help. She was a goblin, she knew being alone meant death, she knew Mbala was more than capable of helping her.

Mbala stood, pushing the chair back violently. He did it more for effect because he enjoyed the drama of the move. Looking directly into Fryer’s eyes he asked “Do you remember the tree of smooching?”.

“Of course,” she answered, slightly bewildered to be asked about their lover’s hideout in a time of upcoming trouble.

“We need to run, now, if we get separated, go there”

With that he turned and walked towards the door looking back one to his family in a way that told them to hurry and follow him.

Mbala was scared but he stood tall and powerfully. To pacify his fear, he was pretending to be a hero capable of amazing feats. While he was a capable fighter, he was not really a killing machine. He knew that, but he was able to play the part of one, like a show done for entertainment only.

The horns were numerous in number now. The echoes of them coming from deep within the warren. With his wife and kids in tow, Mbala moved as fast as the increasingly clogged tunnels would allow. Before most goblins had come to even understand the danger of what was happening, they waited for the trap setters to disengage the traps before they exited the goblin warren and into the daylight.

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