Stephan listened carefully to Ludo’s words in response to the various questions. Upon hearing his claim of some level of nobility, Stephan examined the newcomer’s hands.
No signet ring. But perhaps he wore it on a chain about his neck, thought the Traladaran warrior. Or perhaps it is pocketed.
Miklos laughed as he took Ludo’s hand. “I see my leadership qualities are showing through! I am Miklos, Ludo. I feel I may have seen you before somewhere? Perhaps in Specularum? One of those big social functions…ah well.” He was lost in thought a moment. “You wish to join us you say? Well out here, few are our friends and many are our enemies. Quite easy to tell apart had not we been aware that Goblins are allying themselves with human brigands. So,” he nodded at the scouting dwarf, “some may require you to earn our trust.”
Miklos took a long look at the young man in front of him. “Your fathers’ groundsman you say? A local Lord then? Perhaps that’s why I recognize your features. Which house do you belong to?”
Maruc walked all the way over to the Dwarf and spoke quietly. “So quick to judge someone so harshly?”
He knew this would result in a dwarven sized argument, so as Feldard rounded on him, he held up his hand in supplication. “Perhaps it is wise. Miklos himself suggested that the enemy we face could be a noble. This might be a clever ruse for us to accept him without question. Although it begs the question, how did they know we were coming this way, and what our intentions are? Again, perhaps that is why he is here, to find out or intentions? I think they were admirably demonstrated by Miklos, eh? And, naturally you being here, we are unlikely to wish to ally ourselves with them. Of course, he seems a little young to be the orchestrator of a rebellion, but he might be a trusted son…” he left the thought hanging in the air.
“However, it is my belief that he is honest,” continued the priest. “though like you, I wouldn’t trust him straight away. Well, as honest as Nicolai, Halav rest his soul. He has a certain rakish quality about him don’t you think? They say ‘keep your foes closer than your friends’, I’m of a mind to accept him and keep an eye on him. No doubt you will too.”
Feldard’s nod of agreement to Maruc was short and abrupt.
Hasan interjected himself in Ludo’s petition for Miklos’s favor. “Woodland skills, you say? That I’ll be interested to see. I rather doubt it.” The elf shook his head. “No, the first skill you’ll need to show is an understanding of what duty you owe to any group that will have you. Lead on, boy, and I hope you’ll show sterner stuff than I’ve seen so far, or this will be a rather short journey for you. My companions and I undertake rather more than a foxhunt.”
Ludo turned to face the elf. With a steely look in his eyes he replied, “Prince Hasan, my whole life I have been raised to know duty and my obligations to it, I need no lesson of it from you or anyone. As for calling me boy, I have not had the privilege of court and family protecting me like some I have met, but I know how to fight, survive and win – you can count on that! I also know when to accept assistance when it is offered, so I do not think you have the right to call me ‘boy’.
“I understand your hesitation in allowing me to travel with you, after all a natural assumption would be that I could in cahoots with the Goblins. I am unsure what I can say to alleviate you of this apprehension except to say, that I believe that you saved my life and for that I am indebted to you”.
“I do have some information that you may find interesting – your activities have caught the attention of someone of importance, when I was captured by the Wolfskull tribe three days ago, I was interrogated and tortured by a mysterious man who seem to be directing the Goblins and a Hobgoblin, his name was Vlaak, a cruel brute if ever I did meet. I found this relationship strange to say the least. I was questioned about a group of adventures that were traveling within the forest and that this group included an Elf and a Dwarf traveling together as brothers in arms. Simple deduction suggests that you are this group of adventures. I can now see why they are so vexed with your activities. Anyway, I deducted that my usefulness was coming to an end. I had no knowledge that was of use to them, and so I had to escape. After killing my guard and recovering my equipment, I escaped from their lair late last night; however this lot you have just met tracked me down. This landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen”.
“Now that you have heard my story, I will leave it up to you to decide if it is true or not. However, know this; if you continue on the trail you are using, you will meet your doom. If you should be ambushed, you will be overwhelmed and killed or worse … captured by Vlaak and the human who interrogated me. I would like nothing better then to run my blade through Vlaak’s gut, so if you think my skills and talents can be of use to you then say so, if not I will find another way to take my revenge”.
“Vlaak, you say? That is indeed a name that interests us.” The elf searched Ludo’s face. “Your path will be ours as we search together. Lead on.”
Hasan walked beside Ludo, as the human walked through the petrified wood. The elf’s mind raced, turning over the fact that Ludo had seen a human with the goblins. Hasan didn’t dare reveal that it was that alliance the group cared most about.
With the elf and newcomer taking the lead, Feldard took up the rear guard once again. While he didn’t actually keep his crossbow on the man, Feldard was careful to keep him within sight as they traveled toward what they hoped would be the goblin village and the answers to many of their questions.
Stephan took a position just after Hasan and tried to be as silent as the elf — an impossible task.
Miklos fell into step with Maruc. “Interesting. He did not mention his house. Perhaps he is discraced? He skirted the issue, it is a shame Hasan interjected. Oh well, what do you think?”
The priest shrugged, “I’ll not make any swift judgments about him, but I have faith in Halav. Nicolai was taken from us in an act of selflessness that bordered upon heroic. Neither of us, Miklos, would have believed he’d be capable of that. But I at least have had my eyes opened. Judge not a man by his countenance, but his actions. Perhaps Halav guided him to us in his wisdom. To save him.”
“And to aid us.” he added.
Ludo with Hasan beside him, lead the group to the Goblin lair with as much stealth as the terrain allowed. By the time they neared the lair, night had fallen.
Ludo whispered to Hasan, ” We are getting close, over this small hill lies the Goblin lair. What are your plans”?
Miklos noticed the scouts had paused ahead. “It seems we have arrived.” he cracked his knuckles. “Let us see what our scouts report.”
Hasan gave a description of the lair, and Ludo adding his own inside knowledge. The hideout was constructed of large stone walls erected between the trees of a petrified grove. Some of the larger trees were hollow, and the goblins took advantage of this. The canopy of leaves and branches formed an impenetrable roof. In the gloom, a muddy river that flowed around the lair appeared black. A path led from the forest to the grove, where a hollow tree served as a log bridge over the dark water.
Ludo was not familiar with the entirety of the interior. He only had knowledge of the layout of the guardroom, the wolf pens and the prison.
A crude entrance had been smashed out of one of the large hollow trees. Torchlight could be seen coming from inside. After the gloom of the forest, it almost seemed welcoming. Not so welcoming were the goblins and wolves rushing forward to cross the bridge. Most likely, the wounded wolf had made its way home and now they were on full alert. There were seven goblins, two of them on wolfback.