Stephan’s opinion was immediately clear, “We follow the horse tracks.”
While the others offered their opinions, he searched the horses and disgusting bodies for clues and anything useful.
Feldard’s opinion was less clear as he looked over the carnage the goblins wreaked amongst themselves—fighting clan to clan. This was more normal behaviour. By the looks of it the Vipers had lost, with their commander hanging in the trees… but then why did they keep possession of the horses? Could the horses be bait for a trap? And more importantly where did Vlaak go?
“Hasan, any indication of which group the Hobgoblin was with?” the dwarf questioned.
“Aye, We need to follow Vlaak, if possible.” agreed the Cleric turning his head from the carnage.
“The hobgoblins took great care to hide their tracks,” replied the elf. “I have not seen any since leaving the ‘stead.”
Miklos knew nothing of goblin interclan relationships. What he was learning made him wonder if they were viable as a species. He shook his head and watched the elf expertly piece together what had happened. It was watching magic cast for the first time…
Though the signs were clouded by the passage of time and carnage, the elf traced the skirmish’s flow within the clearing and read the signs of the Wolfskull’s victory. He attended to his task for 30 minutes in silence as his companions stood by, wondering at his silent progress.
A clang banged through the hot, airless forest, raising all from their deepening stupor. Feldard had discovered that the mosquitoes were awakening from their afternoon siestas. Still the elf studied the ground. “Blasted elf,” muttered the dwarf, who now questioned his earlier enthusiasm for elvish woodcraft.
Finally, the elf spoke. “A total victory, impressive that these creatures could rally after we first repulsed them at their great cost. I do not believe a Viper survived the encounter.”
“So you read it in the tracks,” Miklos interjected, excited. “It is just as I surmised, the Wolfsku…”
“No, it is not clear from the tracks,” continued the elf, by now unperturbed by the excitable human’s verbal ejaculations. “This is merely a logical deduction. The Vipers had abandoned their fellows and run with the great prize. But they were weak and could not resist when their brethren challenged their claim to it. Then, the Wolfskull separated into two groups, one heading mostly east, the other west. Why west? Why, indeed, horses? Goblins do not ride horses; this prize has no value to them, except as a transactional tool. Why would they go to such lengths for such steeds? I believe they seek the river and the slavers. And that confluence of man and these foul beasts is the great worm under this stone, as Miklos has said. We should follow the steeds, but we would follow not knowing whither Vlaak goes.”
“Common sense dictates that Vlaak would go with the greater number.” observed the priest, “Lords send underlings for lesser missions. Thats not to say that he wouldn’t travel west but my intuition tells me to press eastward with the sunset at our backs. Lead on Hasan.”
The dwarf nodded and moved from his watchpost. “Then east it is.” Once more Feldard fell in position at the rear, letting the elf and Maruc take the lead.
As Stephan used a stick to poke around the goblin corpses, he listened idly to his companions’ discussion, satisfied they were reaching the correct conclusion.
The easterly trail led into the woods. Judging by the distance between tracks, they moved with quickened pace. The trail continued for a few miles until it met and followed an overgrown trackway. Along the side of the path was a sign, in Elvish and Common, nailed to a tree. It read “Miss L. Fyodorll—Equine Entrepreneur—Dealer in Fine Horses.”