Bonesplitter the troll reached out to poke the rump of Lockhart’s horse like a man might check the marbling on a good steak. There was a great crackling sound at the back of the horse which caused it to buck while something like lightning came out of the horse and struck the troll’s hand. Bonesplitter was thrown back into the solid rock wall of the tunnel, hard. A number of rocks crumbled and several big ones fell from overhead, not that the troll was actually damaged, but he was pretty badly shaken.
“You okay?” Katie was the first to express her concern.
“Yes, didn’t I tell you?” Lockhart answered. “After the last time zone when the imps tried for horse bacon, Junior doubled the hedge around the horses the way the gods put a hedge around us. If any of the little ones try to harm the horses, they might not survive the attempt. I think this was just a warning that probably startled Dog as much as the troll, but we are all right now.”
“We have company up front, too.” Roland spoke from the front of the column as the column stopped.
“We have been traveling single file and downhill for several hours. Ask them if they will take us to a cavern where we can spread out. Better yet would be an exit on the other side of the mountain.”
‘I can ask,” Roland said. He was an elf who could hear even a whisper from the back of the column with those good elf ears. He could also make himself heard without having to raise his voice, and limit the hearing to the person he was speaking to by a technique he called directed sound.
“Well, if they know the horses are off limits and we are under the protection of the gods, they might think twice about hurting us or leading us astray,” Lockhart said.
While they walked, the goblin beside Lockhart asked a couple of questions. “So what stupidity got you to risk your lives going down into a goblin lair?”
“We dug a man’s body out of the ice—a crevasse in the glacier above. We promised to take it home where it could be properly buried, but it was stolen in the night.”
“You dug it out?” The goblin sounded surprised before he shouted with no concern that the sound might bring the roof down. “Hey Slither. I thought you said you dug that humebone out of the ice.”
The shout came back. “Well, not exactly. I said it was dug out of the ice, but it wasn’t hard. We found it outside the top door tied up like a present.”
“Okay. I just wanted to be sure you were lying.” The goblin turned again to Lockhart and shook his head in the dark. “You never know. But now, tell me something about your people.” Lockhart could not be sure, but he imagined the goblin was grinning in his most friendly manner.
“What did you do with the body?”
“Ah, well.” The goblin lost his grin and apparently had to think about what to say. “I thought we might thaw it and eat it. I imagined it would be good and ripe by now, but Hogface said the ice probably preserved it so it might be like fresh meat. I’m not picky. But our god sent us to fetch it, so we are bringing it to him.” The goblin appeared to shrug like he thought that was a waste of good eating.
“I have known the Kairos for over forty years. I think you made a wise decision fighting your desire for lunch.”
“Oh, you know him, do you?”
They emptied out from the tunnel into a big cavern. This one was well lit with torches spread around that naturally gave off no smoke. There were several smokeless cooking fires around as well, and several goblin women cooking. Lockhart tried not to look as the goblin next to him spoke to the troll
“Bonesplitter, go play with the children.” Bonesplitter made a sound which Lockhart interpreted as a sound of delight, though he could hardly imagine a troll being delighted about anything. He refused to look at the children and waited patiently as his goblin rushed up front to whisper words in another goblin’s ear. That goblin, a big and exceptionally frightening looking fellow stepped up to the travelers to speak.
“We can’t eat your horses which is a waste of good meat. And we can’t eat you since you are under the protection of the gods. So why are you here? There is the door. Get out.” He pointed to another rock wall like the one where they came in. It was another glamour designed to protect the entrance of the goblin home.
“You heard him,” Lockhart said, and he encouraged the travelers to vacate the place. To be sure, they did not need much encouragement.
Back outside, they found themselves on the other side of the mountain and headed downhill. The sky had cleared of its ominous clouds while they were underground, and the sun came out, but the sun was only an hour or so from setting. Lockhart moved them downhill as much as he could and as fast as he dared. He wanted as much room as he could get between them and the goblins at night.
“Dark elves,” Katie kept calling them. It did not help. Lockhart said they were creepy and he felt some empathy for poor, old Lincoln.
They set a watch in the night, but were not bothered, and things looked better in the morning.
“We are much further down the mountain and out of the alps than I expected,” Elder Stow reported.
“As high up as we got, it was hard to tell what time of year we were in,” Roland spoke to Boston. “I think now we are gaining on spring.”
“I like spring,” Boston responded with a smile.
For much of the morning, Decker and Elder Stow were able to move out on the wings and get a good lay of the land. Boston kept an eye on her amulet so they would not get too far off if they had to detour, and Roland often raced out front to see what might be the easiest way down.
Lincoln and Alexis said little, but seemed content to ride side by side. Katie tried to get Lockhart to relax. She thought all of the little spirits of the earth were fascinating, including goblins and trolls, so she did not exactly understand the phobia. Lockhart said it wasn’t a phobia, their inhuman nature just creeped him out, that’s all.
They stopped for lunch when Roland caught a couple of doves on the mountainside. The trees were thick in the area, but there was a small upland meadow where they could build a fire and relax. It also gave the horses some variety in their diet, though it was only sprouts and not yet flowers.
They were approached when they settled in. Roland called them Kobald, but they looked more or less like elves to the others. There were three, Hart, Posen and Grieg, and they did not appear to be threatening. Hart was the one who did most of the talking.
“You are on the Lady’s mountain.”
“Who?” Boston had to ask.
“Oneesis, the oread of this mountain. They are all her mountains in a sense, but this one in particular she calls home.
“No offence to Oneesis,” Lockhart spoke. “We are trying to get off her mountain, but we have an errand first.”
“We dug a body out of the glacier above,” Lincoln picked up the story. “And against the better judgment of some of us, we promised the ghost we would take his body home for proper burial.”
“Ah,” Hart said while Posen and Grieg nodded to each other. “The one picked up by the dwarfs at the entrance to the goblin lair is on its way. That way.” He pointed. “The main path down this side of the mountain from the pass is over there. We were wondering why you were far from the easy path.”
“We didn’t know there was an easy path,’ Alexis sounded apologetic.
“With the Kairos, there is no easy path,” Decker said, and everyone laughed, including the Kobald who also nodded to one another and made agreeable sounds.. Among the travelers it was a bit of nervous laughter which was only mollified when Hart spoke again.
“Come, we will take you to the path and to the body.”