The entrance to the cave was not far. They did not find any seeds en-route, but they did not expect to see any. The little pile of seeds just inside the cave, where the morning light struck, and the little trail that ran away from the pile and into the dark could not have been clearer.
“Just to be certain I have this right, Melissa is two?”
“Mother?” Sandra responded, and Glen nodded as he suspected the woman had taken the seeds and she was leaving the trail.
“Still, a rather sloppy kidnapper not to notice something as obvious as this.” Glen was skeptical.
“They may have rested here before entering the cave.” Macreedy offered an explanation. Glen was not so sure, but there was nothing to do but go into the dark.
Macreedy pulled the three glow-balls from his pack – the ones that had been in the tent. He spoke over them and they became bright, and with a few more words they began to float in the air, one out front, one in the middle, overhead, and one just behind the group. Sandra was amazed to see real magic, and stepped closer to Glen, a little afraid. Pointed ears were one thing, but the outright impossible was quite another.
“Macreedy is so talented.” Ellean praised him, and Macreedy looked like he might say, “Tut-tut” at any moment.
“Y-yes.” Sandra stuttered around the smile that she pasted on her face. Glen was less surprised. He paid attention when Macreedy built up the fire the night before. He expected some sort of magic, and he examined the glow-balls the night before. With that light, though, they could move forward.
It was certainly a cave, uneven floor, stalactites overhead, and Glen hoped no bats or at least not too many. As they moved deeper into the dark, finding seeds almost by accident in several cases, it quickly got cold, and they all hugged their cloaks. Sandra had been given one and had wondered why she might need it in the warm fall air she felt in the forest. Now she understood. It got cold underground where neither the sun nor the warm air could penetrate.
After a time of clambering through and over rocks and around corners, and always going down and deeper in, the floor beneath their feet flattened out and brought them quickly to a large chamber that looked more like the inside of a cathedral than a cave.
“Not good,” Macreedy said. He laid his hand against a stalagmite which had the appearance more of a column than a natural occurrence. “This is a goblin hall,” he said and he pointed to some carvings on the column.
“Glen.” Sandra scooted yet closer and laid her hand on his wrist. She looked into his eyes and hoped for reassurance.
“Dark elves,” Glen said. “That is an easier word than goblins. They stay underground and work great magic in stone and metal. They are not necessarily the evil goblins of legend.”
Ellean had her bow out and an arrow ready. “But they do like to eat the flesh raw,” she said.
“Big help!” Glen put his arms around Sandra, and she did not mind that at all.
“They are not friends to the elves of the light,” Macreedy agreed with Ellean, though he left his weapons where they were and only fingered the knife at his side.
“I see three ways we can go.” Glen changed the subject.
Macreedy shook himself from his own thoughts and raised his arms. The glow-balls brightened a little, spread out and showed that there were actually five choices. “The problem is two or three of these ways will lead to the warrens, the goblin homes.” He added that last for Glen and Sandra. “Only two or three ways will lead to other places.”
“And which is which?” Ellean finished the thought and she, Sandra and Macreedy all looked at Glen.
“No, no,” Glen said. He let go of Sandra and stepped back a full step. “I’m no seer. If there is magic in the human world, I have less of it than anyone I know.”
“Someone has to decide,” Sandra said.
“Or you could all just stay here until you starve.” An eerie sort of voice spoke out of the dark. Sandra jumped back into Glen’s arms and Ellean pulled her bow to the ready, though how she knew which direction to point it was a mystery since the cavern not only looked like a cathedral, it echoed like one as well.
The stranger stepped into the light. He was a bit shorter than a man or an elf. Macreedy was actually the tallest person there. But then this person did not look like a man or an elf. He had red eyes and almost no ears at all, and little horns on its head; what could be seen of them through the thick black hair. It also had a forked tongue, like a snake, with which it was presently licking its lips.
“A goblin,” Sandra said. She burried her face into Glen’s chest so she would not have to look at it.
“A hobgoblin.” Macreedy corrected her. He was still fingering the hilt of his knife but he left it where it was for the present.
“Ignatius Patterwig, son of Coriander.” The hobgoblin bowed, graciously.
“Coriander Patterwig?” Macreedy knew something.
“The same,” Ignatius said. “But since my father did not survive the uprising, I have had to find other employment.”
“Who?” Sandra asked.
Ellean answered. “The self-proclaimed king of the hobgobs.”
“Hobgoblins are an independent lot. They don’t take kindly to kings,” Glen explained for Sandra.
“Very perceptive for one made of blood and mud,” Ignatius said. “How…” He had to think of the right word. “How impossible.”
“Never mind that,” Sandra interrupted. “Can you show us the way to go?”
Ignatius paused and a smile turned up his lips – a smile that was too big to be human, though it never showed any teeth. That was fine. Sandra did not want to see the teeth. “I assume you are following the mother and the baby.”
“I’m the mother!” Sandra shouted. “That was my mother and my baby.”
“Do you know where they are?” Ellean asked. Panic was building up in Sandra’s voice so Ellean verbalized for her.
Ignatius looked like he was about to say one thing, but as looked again at Glen, he changed his mind. “I know which way they went,” he said.
“Show us,” Glen said.
“And for me?” The hobgoblin could not resist the bargain.
“Anything,” Sandra said, but everyone ignored her, and Macreedy interrupted her.
“Your life.” Macreedy was blunt.
“Your life.” Ellean agreed and she held her bow steady with the arrow aimed right at the hobgoblin.
“And what does the warrior say?” The hobgoblin asked.
“You will have the satisfaction of knowing you have done a good deed,” Glen said, and everyone looked at him like he had a loose screw, except Macreedy who got that suspicious look once more. “Now, show us.” Glen put some command in that voice.
“I will,” the hobgoblin said, but then he paused and wrinkled his brow. “But only because I am a sucker for a mother’s love.” He figured a way to justify his agreement. “This way,” he said, but as he began to walk, he turned his head, and a bit too far as far as Sandra was concerned. “Anything?” He asked.
“Too late,” Glen said. “The bargain is with me and made. Walk on.”
Ignatius grunted. “I don’t normally argue with weapons,” he admitted.
“And I am dressed like a true warrior,” Glen said, speaking a half-truth like a true elf. Ellean was impressed. Macreedy just smiled a bit and nodded.
NOTE: To read this story from the beginning or to read any of the stories of the Traveler please click the tab “Traveler Tales” above. You can read any of the stories independently, or just the Vordan story, or the whole work in order as written. Your choice. Enjoy. –Michael.