Part One of another Timeless Tale

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The Black Wizard Crellan

Here is the first of a two-part timeless tale from my fantasy anthology

~~~

Beware on Crellan’s Mine!

 

Part 1

 

The Pressgang

In which Globular Van der Graff, (Glob), Makepeace Terranova (Make), Byzantine Du Lac (Byz), Eponymous Tringthicky (Mous), curmudgeonly old Neopol Stranglethigh (Neo), along with Bejuss, the one-eyed lisping raven with the twisted beak, Morweth, Nit, Fig, Mica and a party of his humin friends, set out on a dangerous mission.

Disturbing news from the far eastern reaches of Goblindom arrived at the ancestor oak. It was revealed that the black wizard Crellan has a secret jewel mine. The whole area surrounding the mine is watched over, protected and run by hundreds of mercenaries in Crellan’s employ.

None of the slaves working it know what it is they are mining, or why. When they are dragged into its reception camp outside the mine’s entrance, they are immediately chained together, in groups of five. The guards then put out their eyes and cut out their tongues, before sending them into its murky depths.

In the mine, the slaves barely exist. They work in cloying darkness under the cruel whips of their mountain ogre gang masters, who are unaffected by its poisonous environment. The slaves barely exist on a diet of watery acorn broth. They sleep at the seam face and breathe in the vapours escaping from the rocks all around them that they have to pick their way through in their search for the rich jewel seams.

As a consequence of the harsh beatings they endure, together with the poisonous environment and their lack of proper food, they die in their hundreds. Crellan’s many pressgangs made up from a mix of plains and mountain ogres, mountain gremlins and trolls, easily replace the dead with freshly pressed volunteers from across Goblindom.

For the moment, no one apart from Crellan himself knew why he wanted the precious jewels, or what kind they were.

The slave responsible for revealing the mine’s location and its horrors died before he could tell exactly how he had escaped. His name was Pigwort Minkclaw (Mink), an educated plains goblin, who formerly worked as a junior scribe for the wise council. For many moons Mink had headed west, hiding by day, crawling, feeling and smelling his way by night, eating whatever his fingers or nose told him was edible.

Bejuss had found him quite by accident when he was on his way to visit a distant cousin on his mother’s side to the east of the valley. His eye focused on a skeletal creature lying in a hollow, perilously close to death. By nightfall, Mink was being looked after by her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, and Brilith the white witch. But even their best efforts were not enough to save him.

Because he had been made blind and dumb at the cruel hands of the guards he could not communicate normally. Before he died he managed to scrawl a few words, naming who had pressed him into service along with their descriptions. He also drew a map from memory of the part of Goblindom known as the Widow Spires, a range of brooding mountains shrouded in a permanent cloud of mist, seldom visited because of its close proximity to Crellan’s new lair at Goblindom’s eastern border. In particular, he drew the safest route to the entrance of the mine to bypass the vigilant eyes of the many lookouts.

The very last words Mink wrote in his shaky hand were – Whatever yer does beware on Crellan’s mine! Don’t… Before he could finish his warning, the wren feathered quill pen slowly fell from his dead hand to the floor.

Glob sat at the window with Bejuss perched on his shoulder; both of them were silently fuming. Like the rest of the household, thanks to Mous’ unfortunate aptitude for clumsiness, they were starving.

Today’s breakfast had been an utter disaster. They had all gone hungry yet again because of him. On the way to the table, he had managed to drop all of the breakfast bowls, smashing them to pieces and covering the floor with their delicious contents.

Both Neo and Make angrily chased him around the kitchen intent on doing physical harm to their accident-prone brother. Mous barely escaped their wrath when he ran outside fearing for his life, before quickly climbing to the old oak’s topmost branches. Simpleminded Byz hid under his bed not daring to show the point of his nose, just in case his brothers decided to take out their frustrated anger on him instead.

Glob sighed, briefly looked his old friend Bejuss in the eye, and shook his head before calling for calm. “Right’s brothers, we’s needs ter hunt down the three goblins wot is capturin folk for Crellan’s mine in these parts. Now we’s has their names n wots theys look like. Morweth, Fig n Nit shud be’s here soon; Mica, Miranda n his war party as well.”

Then he went to the door and demanded Mous come back inside before angrily telling him, “now brother, let’s see if yer can makes us sum food ter takes wiv us, preferably wivout spillin it on the floor if yer don’t mind!”

Mous warily slunk back inside. He quickly made for the kitchen, not daring to look anyone in the eye, “I’z zorry brotherz,” he sheepishly muttered, ducking a well-aimed cuff from Neo, “I’z knowz I’z a clumzy numpkin; I’z won’tz do it agin, I’z promize.”

“Yer’d better not, else yer’ll feels me club kiss yer noggin,” Neo grumbled, glaring angrily at his brother through his highly animated crossed eyes. Mous did his best to ignore the threat and began to prepare leaf parcels of food as well as collecting their mugs and a full acorn barrel of Neo’s special mead for the journey. Within the hour everyone was assembled beneath the old oak, ready for the hunt.

Mordern Bigsnook, or Dern as he was known, was a frightening figure. Condemned for five brutal murders and suspected of countless unsolved others, he had languished in a stinking dark cell, waiting to be executed for his crimes. Seizing his opportunity one night, he killed a guard when his food was brought to him and stole his keys before escaping into the night from the dungeons below the ancestor oak two summers ago. Heading east where he knew he would never be followed, he eventually found employment with Crellan.  Now he led the pressgang working the southern woods.

At four foot, he was unusually tall for a plains goblin. He shaved his head, apart from a thick wiry black line of hair on its crown, which looked like the bristles on a boar’s back. Two large fangs stuck up from his bottom jaw, almost disappearing into the equally large nostrils of his broken nose when he closed his mouth.

Crellan had told Dern to pick his own team for a special assignment, to capture Glob and his brothers. Not trusting any other kind than his own, Dern chose his two companions, Grythle Snickweed (Snick), and Broglik Cantfurgle (Brog), from the ranks of the plains goblin lookouts.

Dern only cared for one thing, the jewels his master Crellan paid him; one emerald for each new slave delivered alive. This time, Crellan had promised him five hundred emeralds for each of the five brothers. Capturing a few more goblins before they took Glob and his brothers was perfectly fine in his eyes. It meant more emeralds for him. If either of his companions proved to be a threat, he would kill them without a moment’s hesitation.

“Which ways is we headin terday boss,” Snick yawned as he began to pick his nose, “norf, souf, west or east?”

Dern scowled at his two companions, “south blast yer. Now gets yerself forward yer scum afor I’s slit yer throats! I’s can always does this alone. More profit for me if yer’s both dies.”

A chill ran up their spines. They both knew that their leader’s notoriously short temper meant that they were constantly in danger. Neither one had willingly volunteered for this assignment. Both preferred their relatively cushy jobs as lookouts high above the approaches to the mine, rather than accompanying this homicidal maniac. To refuse would have meant being thrown into the mine. On the other hand, the pay was good.

Snick shrugged his shoulders and swung his war axe and his pack onto his back while Brog checked his blade’s edge before slinging it over his shoulder. Then the pair set off with one eye on the woods ahead and the other, nervously on Dern bringing up the rear. By noon, they made temporary camp in a tiny glade several leagues inside the vast southern wood.

With Grassnit Thimblefoot (Nit), Hermione’s chief scout, leading the way, Mica walked beside Miranda who was loaded down with their provisions.

At first, she had been reluctant to leave her foal. But when Agnitha and Ylesse said they would take care of her, Miranda agreed. To make her journey as pleasant as he could, and to take her mind off her foal, Neo sat between her large velvet soft ears whispering to her. Following close behind were Mica’s fellow humin warriors Verig, Cantor, Jasper and Manx together with Morweth, the white wizard, Figblaster Cornshuffle (Fig), the bounty hunter, and the four other goblin brothers while Bejuss flew above on the lookout.

Not far ahead of the party was the home of Smikewhistle Pontigle (Pont), who made his living sewing the finest jerkins in Goblindom. Unbeknown to Pont or our plucky band, Dern and his pressgang were already studying the comings and goings of Pont’s customers. Dern’s cruel fanged smile spread across his face. It looked like today would be a highly profitable one for him. Signalling to Snick and Brog to conceal themselves on either side of the path, to knock out each of Pont’s customers as they appeared, he crawled forward through the lush grass, heading for the unsuspecting tailor’s home.

Within a matter of minutes he had entered silently, hit Pont on the head with his club, and bound him securely before hiding him in a cupboard. Then disguising himself and taking Pont’s place at the workbench, he prepared to bash any goblins that his companions missed when they entered Pont’s home.

High above, Bejuss’ one eye focused on Dern’s two companions. For a few moments, he circled while he studied them closely before flying back to Glob to deliver his report. “Rarrk – they’th ith not far ahead on uth; me can’t thee Dern anywhere. He mutht be inthide Pon’th houthe.”

“Where are they exactly Bejuss – show us?” Mica commanded of the old bird as they all temporarily halted.

“They’th on the path juth outthide Pont’th place, waiting ter capture hith cuthtomerth; they’th already got thix tho far, all truththed up like chickenth for the pot,” the old bird replied, after he had carefully drawn a map in the dust with his wing, indicating where Snick and Brog had concealed themselves in proximity to Pont’s oak tree home.

Between them, Mica and Glob worked out a plan of attack. “Right Make, you take Byz with you along the path to get Snick’s attention. Verig and I will shadow you for a while before we seek out Brog. Jasper, you take Fig and circle round to the right behind Pont’s home, to watch Dern’s every move. Manx, Cantor, Glob, Neo, and you Mous, protect Morweth and be ready to do whatever he commands. By all accounts, Dern is our real concern. Morweth this is the time for your magic my old friend. Verig and I will try to capture Brog alive. We need a guide to get us past the mine’s lookouts undetected.” Everyone grimly nodded when Mica issued his orders.

“N what’s bout me if yer don’t minds me askin?” Nit grumpily enquired, feeling decidedly left out.

“Sorry Nit, yer mus stay here wiv Miranda. We’ll signal yer whens we’s done. Yer nose for trackin is vital. We’s daresn’t risks yer being caught or injured,” Glob told him as gently as he could, not wishing to insult Goblindom’s most illustrious scout.  Nit glumly nodded. He knew what Glob said made perfect sense, but still…

Bejuss lightly pecked Glob’s earlobe. “Rarrk – what d’yer want me ter doeth Glob?”

Glob turned to look at his old friend, winked and replied, “I’s wants yer ter does wot yer does best Bejuss lad – vanish, n keeps yer eye peeled for truble.” In a trice, the old bird did as he was bid and vanished into thin air.

Make set off along the path holding Byz’ hand, walking like two sacrificial goats towards where Snick lay in wait, to distract him. Meanwhile, Morweth under the protection of Manx, Cantor, Glob and Mous, crept up behind the unsuspecting mercenary.

Mica and Verig carefully shadowed Make and Byz before circling through the thick woods to the left of the path heading for their appointment with Brog, some way past Pont’s home.

Jasper and Fig silently crept round to the right until they finally positioned themselves with an excellent view of Pont’s door, waiting for Dern to burst forth.

At Morweth’s silent command as he raised his hand, his protection squad halted not far from where Snick hid. With his wand, he froze the unsuspecting goblin mercenary to the spot, turning him to stone. Morweth signalled that his protection squad should move forward and smash the frozen figure to pieces. On seeing this Make, still holding Byz’ hand, joined Morweth’s group.

Brog was getting bored lying in wait for fresh volunteers despite the fact that he now had eight wood goblins bound and gagged behind him, each nursing a blinding headache. He stretched his limbs and started to yawn when suddenly the lights went out.

“Got him! Verig, bind and gag him quick so I can release our friends from their bonds,” Mica whispered, handing over the tiny unconscious goblin mercenary. Verig grinned and nodded, setting about his task with relish while Mica quickly cut the captive’s bonds, asking for their cooperation to gain Dern’s attention. To a goblin, despite their pounding heads, the eight willingly agreed.

Bejuss flew down to where Morweth and his party stood in readiness, perching on the wizard’s shoulder, barely a hundred paces from Pont’s home. “Rarrk – Mica n Verig hath captured Brog; they ith waiting for action when yer ith ready. They freed the goblinth wot Brog captured who ith now waitin ter walk patht Pont’th houthe ter dithtract Dern n make him come out when yer want,” the old bird whispered between gasps, as he got his breath back.

On Morweth’s command, the whole party quietly positioned themselves around the oak tree.

Dern peered out at the path. For some time, he had seen no movement in either direction. He was about to collect the unconscious Pont from the cupboard and call it a day, when he saw a party of eight goblins sauntering along, loudly chatting among themselves and heading south.

They passed Brog’s hiding place without being attacked. Dern shook his head, scowling and muttering to himself, seething with anger that his confederate had missed them. When they passed Snick’s hiding place unmolested, Dern completely lost his temper and exploded into action, rushing outside to chase after them. Eight precious emeralds were escaping his purse!

Mica’s battle horn sounded. From all sides humin warriors yelling their terrifying battle cry, brandishing their flint-tipped spears, closed for battle. Wood goblins, armed with their war clubs and blades, joined by a wizard and an old raven completed the picture, catching Dern completely by surprise. From the shadows elven arrows flew, quickly piercing his chest. The welcome sight of Lox appearing from nowhere at the head of her archers heartened everyone with the exception of Dern.

Dern fought ferociously like an insane cornered animal. Many of the party were wounded by his razor sharp blade. His murderous life finally ended after Mica’s spear ripped open his throat, just as Jasper’s flint knife found its way through his jerkin, puncturing a lung, while Fig’s blade hamstrung him, sending him crashing to the ground.

He lay twitching and writhing in the grass as his life force inevitably ebbed away. Bloody green bubbles escaped through his punctured jerkin, from where many elven arrows had pierced his chest. His blood gushed from the severed artery in his neck opened by Mica’s spear, briefly merging with the green grass, before disappearing from view. When his eyes finally glazed over Goblindom was rid of yet another murderous individual forever.

“What now?” Manx asked much later, like the rest already guessing what the answer would be.

“East, we’s heads east ter Crellan’s mine,” Glob replied while he watched Cantor and Verig bury Dern’s body. Turning to Lox he asked, “Wills yer joins us on our quest friend?”

Lox’s bewitchingly beautiful face broke into a smile, “We elves, like the rest of Goblindom, loath Crellan and everything he stands for dear Globular. We were on our way east when Bejuss found us and led us back here. Of course we will join your band.”

From high above three other familiar voices announced in unison, “We too will help you my dears.” Within a blink of the eye, Yathle the wyvern had landed with a squadron of her sisters, with her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, and the white witch Brilith astride her back.

The happy moment was broken when a muffled voice suddenly cried out, “help someones, I’s trapped!” Neo leapt to his feet and went inside the oak to free Pont. Morweth, Hermione and Brilith attended to everyone’s wounds while Mous assisted Pont who insisted on cooking a meal for his rescuers to show his gratitude.

“The east beckons my friends,” Mica said later after they had all bid Pont farewell.

A terrifying screech from high above made the hairs on everyone’s necks stand on end. Bejuss materialized on Glob’s shoulder. “We’th got another volunteer Glob; he’th goin ter recruit hith brother along the way.” The griffin Slyth landed at the centre of the group, reducing the eight rescued goblins who had also volunteered, to a quaking grovelling mass.

Taking Miranda’s halter in his hands, Mica followed Nit with the rest close behind. They set off on the long journey east into the dangerous unknown territory of the mist-shrouded Widow Spires and Crellan’s mine. Above the plucky band, Bejuss flew alongside his friends Slyth and Yathle, with her sisters flying in formation behind them. Along the way, many more willing volunteers would join the quest.

Brog grumbled continually from where he lay trussed up tight, roped securely to Miranda’s back. Neo ended his protestations with his club from where he sat astride Miranda’s neck. By the time they would eventually arrive at the Widow Spires, either Brog would have changed his attitude and become cooperative, or he’d be counting the painful lumps on his head, courtesy of Neo’s war club, moments before his life ended in Slyth’s beak.

The Time Before Map

~~~

Part two later…

😉

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