Pay attention!

goblintalescover

Right, I’ve finished the rewrite of my fantasy anthology Goblin Tales. The next stage is to format it, first as an e-book, then later in paperback form. But only if there is a demand for it.

Now here’s where you come in.

If and I do mean if I publish it, depends entirely on you my blog followers, all 680 of you.

To that end I have prepared a .pdf version for a minimum of twelve people to read – 160 pages in all. Or if you prefer – 84,768 words. If you would like to be one of the lucky twelve (even if fantasy is not your thing) email me at:

jackeason5@gmail.com.

Remember, if twelve of you don’t come forward wanting to read and positively review it, Goblin Tales will not be published; it’s as simple as that!

I would ask you to remember this as well; a five-star review is not a critique, riddled with spoilers, no matter how glowing (or gushing) it may be. Nor is this an excuse to compose a diatribe designed to put people off reading the book in question!

Reality dictates that no e-book lasts long these days without a flurry of positive reviews, right from the get go. Should you chose to help out, I shall place Goblin Tales in an ‘order only’ time frame of one month to give all twelve of you thirty days to post your review on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Would I refuse to publish a book I’ve been telling you all about by offering you selected passages from it? Of course I would if it is greeted with a lacklustre response prior to publishing!!!

Hope to hear from you soon,

Jack

😉

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One more Goblin Tale

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Thicker Than Sap

     In which Globular Van der Graff, (Glob), Makepeace Terranova (Make), Byzantine Du Lac (Byz), Eponymous Tringthicky (Mous), curmudgeonly old Neopol Stranglethigh (Neo), and Bejuss the lisping one eyed raven with the twisted beak, hide a fugitive.

~~~

     Glob was having a wonderful dream. He was laying on a bed of freshly picked oak leaves beneath the ancient branches of the ancestor oak, being fed honeycomb by her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, lying beside him naked as the day is long, while she gently kissed his forehead and stroked his leathery old ears, making him squirm in ecstasy. His nose however was definitely not dreaming. It twitched violently. The next moment he woke barely able to breath, choking on the pungent fumes that filled the entire household.  Bejuss felt sick, so sick in fact that he fell from his customary perch in the rafters to the floor. His eye watered as he did the best he could to cover his nostrils with the thick flight feathers of one wing. Make felt distinctly queasy. Half awake, he filled his bestest briar pipe with a plug of his honeysuckle flavoured tobacco, lit it, and inhaled deeply before filling the room with smoke to drive off the stench. The combination of the pungent smell and thick tobacco smoke woke Mous who immediately threw up on their still sleeping younger brother, simpleminded Byz. Neo could not stand the overpowering smell either. In sheer desperation he covered his face with his cobweb blankets in an attempt to get away from it. His stomach heaved violently. Leaping out of bed with one hand clamped firmly across his mouth, he rushed to the window. Quickly flinging it open, he began breathing in sweet lungfuls of fresh air through his long pointed goblin nose. But it was too late. His stomach had simply had enough. It decided to revolt by emptying its contents, spraying them through his fingers, down the gnarled bark of the old oak. “Rarrk – wot jutht died?” Bejuss cried as he flew rapidly through the opened window, glad to be outside in the fresh air.

Make and Mous both ran for the door to escape the foul odour. But it was strongest there. Something was blocking it from the outside, preventing them from flinging it wide open. Byz crawled inside one of the kitchen cupboards in a desperate attempt to get away from the smell, but to no avail. The poor soul threw up in the nearest thing at hand, Neo’s favourite mead mug. Glob staggered across to the window from his own bed, far greener in the face than was natural for a southern woods goblin, and stuck his head outside beside his cross-eyed curmudgeonly brother who was slowly recuperating.

From the twig he perched on among the sweet smelling leaves of their oak tree home, Bejuss eventually spied the problem. Huddled against their door was a pathetic figure. He was practically naked, clad only in a filthy flax loincloth, and shivering uncontrollably despite sweating profusely from fever, which added to the overpowering stench from his body. On his head he wore a faded red batwing parchment convict skull cap, with tattered flaps that barely covered his ears. Grey hair flowed in tangles across his shoulders. His long pointed nose stuck out above a white bedraggled moustache and a long filthy beard which grew down to his chest. The only other item of clothing he wore was a pair of tattered willow bark boots, from which the blackened nails of his toes protruded. Great clouds of flies surrounded him, while maggots feasted on the dead flesh of his many wounds. “Rarrk – there’th thomeone laying againtht our door Glob; he don’t look well. Maybe he’th dead,” Bejuss reported, making sure not to get too close to the cause of the gut-wrenching smell.

Glob nodded, sighed, and began climbing out through the window to investigate. When his bare feet finally felt the rough bark of the great bough beneath them, Glob studied the bag of bones for a few moments. “It can’t be – I’s wos sure yer wos dead! What happened lad, where’ve yer been all these summers?” he exclaimed as he finally recognised the source of the foul disgusting odour.

The pathetic creature struggled to open its glued up eyes. “I’s is already dead in Brag’s eyes Glob, yer mus help me, I’s begs yer. I’s bein hunted by Grizweavil Bragsbill. He wants ter flay me hide orf me body cos I’s escaped his punishment gang. Make no mistake; he’ll do it whether I’s is dead or alive.”

Glob took a deep breath before gently picking up the pathetic stinking creature, shifting him away from the door. After it was finally flung wide by Make, and the entire household were at last able to breath fresh air, Glob introduced their smelly visitor. “Brothers, this is Limberespan Van der Graff, me long lost twig cousin. Lim these is me brothers, Neopol Stranglethigh, Makepeace Terranova, Eponymous Tringthicky n Byzantine Du Lac. This here raven is me good friend Bejuss,” he said finally, as the old bird perched on his shoulder, quickly covering his nostrils with one wing. After Glob and Make had tended to his festering wounds using honeycomb and fresh sphagnum moss, before bathing, feeding and clothing him, Lim began his story.

~~~

     He and Glob were born from adjacent acorns, harvested from the Van der Graff twig which grows out of the fourth largest limb of the ancestor oak. As we already know from her magnificence’s previous explanation to Glob, when the acorns are carefully selected by her, they are taken to the birthing room to maintain the finite number of goblins living within Goblindom. For the first six summers of their lives the twig cousins were extremely close. They often found themselves defending one another, whenever the other young goblins ganged up on either of them. To emphasise how close they were back then, Lim informed Glob’s brothers, “blood is thicker than sap yer knows. After all, me n Glob is froms the same twig.” Glob nodded his old head, remembering those innocent days so long ago. When they were finally released into Goblindom, Glob took the path south to the southern oak woods, while Lim headed east towards the jagged range of mountains, known as the Widow Spires. Magical Goblindom always allows each new goblin younger one moon to find its true place within its boundaries, before it finally transforms them into one of three goblin types, plains, wood, or mountain. Many times over the intervening summers Glob heard what he thought were far-fetched tales of Lim’s escapades. And so when Lim said he had just escaped from penal servitude, Glob finally realized the tales were true after all.

Curmudgeonly old Neo grew more angry by the second, sitting by the fireplace staring at the flickering flames through his constantly crossing eyes. The cause of this, his latest bout of displeasure, was the fact that Glob and the rest had temporarily placed Lim in in his bed to recover. “So, wots did yer do ter gets yerself in truble this time thens?” he growled, while his crossed eyes danced violently back and forth as his anger grew.

Lim ignored the angry outburst and gratefully accepted Make’s freshly filled spare pipe, lit it with a taper proffered by Mous, lay back for a moment enjoying the comfort of Neo’s bed and the sweet taste of the honeysuckle flavoured tobacco. “I’s wos always in truble wiv our chief, Monkwig Gribblehang,” he slowly began. “I’s can’t help meself yer sees. I’s just steals things wot take me fancy. Each times I’s wos caught, Monk sent me ter one work gang or other. But this last time, I’s really cooked me goose so ter say, when I’s stole Monk’s bestest briar pipe n his supply on mountain dew flavoured tobacco. He sent me orf in elf chains ter Grizweavil Bragsbill’s punishment gang. Anyone wot gets sent there, never comes back alive. Brag is the most dangerous n murderous on us mountain goblins n an excellent shot wiv the huntin bow. When Monk declares war on another goblin chief, Brag is his first choice to lead his army. If he sets his mind ter killin, yer is nought but walkin dead! One night a moon back, I’s tooks me chance n hid as we wos bein taken back ter our camp. For nearly half the moon I’s has been headin west n south, hidin by day n movin by night. Brag took it personal when I’s escaped n started huntin me wiv his pack on hungry timber wolves, wot he uses ter controls his prisoners. Five nights back I’s thought he had finally caught me. I’s wos makin me way through Athol’s Pass, just east on here. Takin a rest, I’s wos caught by one on his wolves wot suddenly appeared n grabbed me leg. It began shakin me sumink fierce as it tried ter drags me back up the pass ter Brag. I’s cud hears him yellin orders ter his other wolves not far off. I’s managed ter gets free by sticking me fingers in its eyes. It’d ripped me leg ter shreds as yer can plainly see. I’s crawled inside an old fallen log, but it reached in n grabbed me arm. I’s thought it were goin ter bites it orf. But’s I’s managed ter clench me fist n shove it down its throat, choking it ter death. Thens last night I’s finally found meself here in yer valley, n made me way here. The rest yer know.”

~~~

     Mica and his portly friend Cantor were returning to the village from the south, where they had been trading with the next humin village. They had stopped to visit Neo’s mentor and great friend Grimefleet Binglenook, the last of the elder goblins. They both sat with him outside the door of his home on the largest bough of his oak tree. With his ornately carved snail shell ear-trumpet stuck in his relatively good ear, Bingle listened to Mica’s news. Because of the ancient goblin’s increasing deafness Mica found he had to speak directly into the ear-trumpet. Cantor took advantage of the moment, quietly eating the last of the food his wife had packed for the trip, while Mica and Bingle talked in the warmth of the morning sun.

From somewhere close by, a chilling howl made their hair stand on end. Mica motioned to Cantor to climb higher while he scooped up the tiny goblin in his arms and quickly followed. As they watched, hidden from view by the old oak’s thick coat of leaves, they saw first one, then a second timber wolf cautiously circle the oak’s great trunk, sniffing all the while. Soon a well-muscled and unusually tall mountain goblin archer and three more wolves hove into view below. “Wot dids yer finds me lovelies?” Brag quietly asked as he surveyed the oak. He loved his wolf pack more than life itself. Each was like a son to him. His cruel black eyes spied Bingle’s front door. He quickly climbed up onto the bough and unshipped his powerful bow from across his broad back. Nocking an arrow, he entered the ancient goblin’s home before soon reappearing, scowling with disappointment. He quickly climbed down and re-joined his faithful wolves. “Nothing, he aint here me lovelies, don’t worry we’s will finds him soon enuff. Thens yer can tears him apart n fill yer bellies, after I’s has killed him slowly for murdering yer brother that is.” The five wolves all bared their fangs at the thought of sharing in Brag’s revenge for their dead sibling. The fearsome mountain goblin had not forgiven what Lim had done. When he found the lifeless body of the youngest wolf, he slashed the palm of his hand with his sword, swearing a blood oath of revenge over the corpse. Now he was more determined than ever to find his missing prisoner. His wolves warily sniffed the air. They could smell goblin on the wind. But they could also smell humins too, which made them nervous. Brag began to walk in the direction of the humin village with his faithful wolves ranging all around him, searching for Lim’s scent amongst the rest.

“Who’s he after?” Cantor whispered as they slowly descended with one eye on the departing goblin and wolves.

“Not sure, but you can be certain he’s not here on a friendly visit. Circle round him and head for Glob’s place. My guess is he’s hunting one or other of our goblin friends. I’ll follow him to see where he goes,” Mica whispered. The two humins left only after making sure old Bingle was well and truly hidden, deep inside his oak tree’s hollow trunk. When Cantor reported the news to Glob and his brothers, the defence of Lim began in deadly earnest.

~~~

     Brag carefully bypassed the humin village via the heavily wooded western slopes of the valley. He temporarily camped in Cazophen’s cave, sending out three of his wolves to scout out the area around the humin village.

Bejuss watched the unfolding scene below him from on high. After Cantor had reported Brag’s presence in the valley, he had been on his way to recruit his griffin friends Slyth and Garr for what would inevitably occur, when the old bird spied a lone timber wolf descending from Cazophen’s cave, heading towards the goblin brother’s home. He watched it deliberately circle through the woods, following Lim’s scent on the northern side of the humin village. The wolf briefly stopped beneath their oak, before heading off in search of the two other wolves that were sniffing the ground behind Miranda’s stable. They had been temporarily distracted from their hunt for Lim by the thought of a mouth-watering four legged meal, after they came across the scent of the old mare and her foal. Curious to see where they had come from, Bejuss descended silently. He perched in the branches of a tree, hidden from view, above the cave. Peering intently through the foliage at the entrance, his one eye focused on Brag who was seated on a large stone, with two timber wolves sitting on their haunches at his feet.

A little further down the track Brag had taken to reach the cave, Bejuss spied Mica crouching behind a tree. He landed silently behind him, unseen. The old bird gently tapped Mica’s heel with his twisted beak before suddenly re-appearing, making the normally unflappable humin warrior jump. “Thorry,” he whispered as he hopped on to Mica’s shoulder. “Brag’th in there n he’th got two wolveth wiv him. The other three are behind Miranda’th houthe. One on them thniffed our houthe, then went ter fetch the other two, it mutht have thmelt Lim!”

“Brag, Lim – who are they? What are you talking about Bejuss?” Mica whispered his enquiry, clearly puzzled, as he kept an eye on the cave entrance.

Bejuss quickly realized Mica knew nothing of the unfolding events. “Begth pardonth Mica, me woth forgettin yer don’t know; me had better explain. Brag ith after Glob’th twig couthin Lim, coth he ethcaped from hith punithment gang n came here for help. They’re both mountain goblinth. Lim killed one on Brag’th wolf guardth on the way here. Accordin ter wot Lim told uth, Brag ith a murderin monthter. No one wot ith thent ter his work gang ever thurviveth!”

The look on Mica’s handsome face changed from curiosity to one of grim determination as the reason for Brag’s presence here so far away from his mountain home, finally became clear, thanks to Bejuss’ explanation. “Go and let Glob know what is going on old friend. Seek out Cantor and get him to gather our warriors together. Tell him from me to set a guard at your home and send some of our warriors to kill the three other wolves, before they can return to Brag with their news.” The old bird nodded his head. Quickly vanishing from view, he flew off. Once he had passed on Mica’s commands, he continued on his journey to fetch Slyth and Garr.

~~~

     The agonised howls of the three dying timber wolves when they were slain by some of Mica’s humin warriors, close to the goblin brother’s home, brought Brag’s malevolent mind back to reality. While he awaited his wolves return, he had been day dreaming about how he was going to torture, then skin Lim alive. His two remaining wolf sons ran beside him, eager for revenge, as he sprinted down the wooded slope of the western side of the valley. Abandoning his normally cautious ways, Brag ran through the humin village in a blind rage, bow at the ready. Mica’s friends, Verig, Jasper and Manx lay in wait, hidden behind the northernmost roundhouse, spears at the ready. Should Brag or either of his two remaining wolves get past them, Neo, Glob and Make were hiding behind an old tree stump in the northern meadow, between the village and their oak tree home. They were fully armed with their war clubs and razor sharp blue metal goblin blades.

Inside the house, Mous and Byz had barricaded the door with all of their furniture. Lim hid in a secret compartment in the largest cupboard the goblin brother’s possessed. Cantor placed himself in front of the cupboard as the last line of defence, bitterly regretting his impetuous decision, and feeling decidedly uncomfortable inside the cramped confines of the tiny goblin home. He could neither stand nor crouch, so he had to kneel with his head bent sideways. He was armed with his spear and his razor sharp flint bladed knife. Close at hand should he need it, was Neo’s second best war club. On the spur of the moment he had decided to squeeze himself inside. Glob, Neo and Make assisted by pushing him from behind, while Mous, Byz and Lim pulled on his arms from inside their home after he had temporarily got stuck in the tiny doorway, due to his fat belly. Neo had suggested that they leave him wedged in the door. To the old curmudgeon’s way of thinking, what better way was there to stop Brag entering? Then all they had to do was defend the window. Cantor took immediate angry exception to the suggestion. Though his head and shoulders were inside the goblin brother’s home, he somehow detected where Neo was and lashed out with one foot, kicking the cross-eyed old curmudgeon where no goblin, or humin male for that matter, should ever be kicked. Neo bent double in extreme agony. The unbelievable pain emanating from his groin temporarily straightened his naturally crossed eyes. Intense white spots danced across his eyesight, temporarily blinding him. Struggling for breath, the old curmudgeon quickly grunted his apology through gritted teeth. After Cantor had finally got inside the goblin brother’s home, Neo tottered off and sat at the other end of the bough among the leaves, rocking back and forth and crying like a younger, while tenderly cradling the painfully bruised part of his anatomy for a considerable length of time.

~~~

     Brag’s sharp eyesight detected movement on either side of him. The villagers were fast closing with him and his wolves. As he ran blindly forward, well aimed spears quickly found their targets. Soon Brag stood alone. He readied himself, arrow nocked. The taught string of his bow sang in the breeze as he fired wildly. If he was going to die, he would make sure he took as many as he could with him. Large shadows appeared on the ground where he stood as Slyth and Garr dived towards the mountain goblin archer. In a few moments Brag’s life ended when Garr ripped his head off his shoulders with one swift bite. As the mountain goblin’s headless body relaxed, his last arrow flew free, passing harmlessly through Slyth’s flight feathers.

Once the brief fight was over, his body and those of his wolves were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of Athol’s pass as a warning to anyone else who thought of entering the peaceful valley with murder on their minds. After Bingle had been retrieved from his hiding place and reinstalled on his rocking chair outside his door, Glob, his brothers, and Bejuss, had a pressing problem. The old goblin posed a question to Mica and his warriors. “Wots we’s goin ter do bout Cantor? He can’t get outs on our home. His fat belly won’t let him.” The extreme nervous tension the humin warrior endured while waiting for Brag’s assault had made him hungry. He had helped himself to their entire store of honeycomb, dried fish and mead.

Verig smirked and winked as he replied, “looks like he’ll just have to be your guest for a while longer Glob; at least til he slims down that is. Meantime you and your brothers are welcome to stay with us.” As Glob and Mica led the party of humin warriors, goblins and griffins back to the village where Agnitha, her daughter Ylesse, and the women were preparing a victory feast, the sound of raucous laughter echoed throughout the valley. Still nursing his painful groin, Neo smiled to himself at the thought of Cantor being trapped. Bejuss briefly perched on the windowsill of their home, peering inside at the unfortunate Cantor, wondering how long the humin would be there. Then, smelling the feast he flew off to the village. A bowl of juicy slugs, worms and snails awaited his attention.

From deep inside the cupboard behind the decidedly overstuffed Cantor, a pathetic voice cried out, “Glob, anyone? Cans yer hear me? Cans I’s comes out now? Is it all over?” In the heat of the moment, Glob’s twig cousin Lim had been completely forgotten about…

PS – Neo learnt a painful lesson, don’t you think? 🙂

More later

😉

Another Goblin Tale

goblin_by_davidrapozaart

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 and protected 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 the 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 breath 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, 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 knows why he wants the precious jewels, or what kind they are.

~~~

     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 worked occasionally 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. Quite by accident Bejuss had found him 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 easternmost border. In particular, he drew the safest route to the entrance of the mine to bypass the vigilant eyes of the 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’ 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 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, quickly making for the kitchen, not daring to look anyone in the eye, “I’z zorry brotherz,” he sheepishly began, 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 bonce,” 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 shaped 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 at least a thousand unsolved ones, 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, 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 bristle ridge 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 whenever he closed his mouth.

Crellan had ordered 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. 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. But, 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, always on the lookout for trouble.

~~~

     Not far ahead of the party was the home of Smikewhistle Pontigle (Pont), who made his living sewing the finest jerkins in all 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 unsuspecting 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 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. While he knew what Glob said, made perfect sense…

Bejuss lightly pecked Glob’s earlobe. “Rarrk – what d’yer want me ter does 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, while Morweth under the protection of Manx and Cantor, assisted by 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 his protection squad halted not far from where Snick hid. With his wand at the ready 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 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, and 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, n they ith waitin ter walk patht Pont’th houthe ter dithtract Dern n make him come out whenever 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, 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. He 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 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 he lay on 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 knowing the answer.

“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 her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, and the white witch Brilith astride her back, together with a squadron of Yathle’s sisters.

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 everyones 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 everyones 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 hand, 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.

PS – I’m almost back to where I was with the re-write before my old Vaio died. This time I’m saving to my memory stick – just in case…

More later

😉

When Bejuss first appears in Goblin Tales

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Bejuss’ great grand-nephew Braak

As I’m rewriting my fantasy anthology Goblin Tales, I thought I’d let you read about when I introduced my favourite character of them all – a one eyed lisping raven with a twisted beak. I couldn’t get a picture of him as he’s extremely shy. So the one of Braak will have to suffice.

~~~

A Spell is Cast

     In which Globular Van der Graff, (Glob), Makepeace Terranova (Make), Byzantine Du Lac (Byz), Eponymous Tringthicky (Mous) and curmudgeonly old Neopol Stranglethigh (Neo), assisted by worthy allies, do battle to save their humin friend Mica and his entire village from the effects of powerful black magic.

~~~

     In the midst of a violent stormy night a mighty lightning bolt hit the ancient oak tree where Glob and his brothers lived, immediately followed by an ear-splitting clap of thunder, throwing them all into a state of sheer panic. They were forced to flee in the torrential rain and head for the relative safety of Miranda’s stable.

~~~

     “Oh here me dark spirits; I call on thee in this my time of revenge, to strike down mine enemies. Spirits deliver upon them all evil devices. I command thee to make their worthless lives a misery,” her voice shrilled, even though she could not be heard beyond the precincts of the cave she occupied, thanks to the continuous lightning strikes and claps of thunder, created by her powerful magic. The flashes of the lightning bolts illuminated her cruel face, twisted as it was into a grimace of pure hatred, disfigured by a festering sore on her forehead. She hobbled between her workbench and cauldron, despite the great pain of her grossly bent back and deformed legs, adding ingredients as she increased the power of her spell. No living thing had noticed she had taken up residence in the shallow cave in the thickly wooded slopes east of the village, accompanied by her familiar, two days earlier.

The effects of her spell immediately induced a host of crippling maladies in the humin village. Boils, festering sores, vomiting, diarrhoea and chronic physical pain violently struck its residents low. From inside Miranda’s stable, the now thoroughly soaked goblin brothers could hear the groans and cries coming from the village in the brief lull between lightning bolt and clap of thunder, not yet realising that evil that had struck down their humin friends.

~~~

     The next morning, the magically induced storm finally abated and Byz had trapped himself a new pet in the witch cage. Grouzle had choked to death a couple of days earlier, after trying to swallow Byz’ gold ring. “Look – gots me a new pretty birdy!” he said, proudly showing his latest pet to his brothers. His simpleton’s grin broke out, showing his sheer delight from where he sat tethered to one of Miranda’s back legs. Glob and his brothers stared at the new pet for long time with a mixture of deep suspicion, fear, and curiosity. A bedraggled one-eyed raven with a deformed beak peered suspiciously back at them through the bars of the witch cage.

“Wot’s yer name thens bird?” Neo cautiously enquired.

“Arrk – me miththtreth callth me Bejuthth,” the raven lisped, prevented from telling a lie by the strong magic of the cage.

“Whoth – sorrys, I does begs pardons bird, I’s means whose yer mistress thens?” Glob enquired, quickly correcting himself, not wishing to upset the old raven by copying its speech impediment. Careful to interpret the answers correctly, he determined its name was in fact Bejuss and its mistress’ name was Cazophen. Through careful questioning, the old bird revealed she had returned to the valley a few days ago, after spending ten long summers learning the black arts from the black wizard Crellen, who found her near death and nursed her back to health. Bejuss went on to explain how Mica’s parents and their fellow villagers, had accused her of being a witch all those years ago, after Yestin had noticed something suspicious on her shoulder. In fact she was not a witch of any kind, merely an innocent young girl with a peculiar birthmark. Young Cazophen was a natural healer. Perhaps professional jealousy was the reason for Yestin’s accusation, no one really knew. But all those summers ago, strange and frightening things occurred within the confines of the village. Many people were struck down with various maladies. According to Yestin, black magic was at work. He proclaimed Cazophen was its practitioner. At his command they branded her witch with a burning piece of wood, leaving a hideous scar on her forehead that never healed, yet more proof to all the nervous and highly superstitious villagers that their shaman’s belief about her was true after all. A few days after the ritual branding, the men of the humin village dragged her screaming and pleading for mercy from the cage she had been put in. They threw her off a cliff at the far end of the valley, believing they had killed her. This was the reason for her bent back and hobbling gate. But now she had returned schooled in the black arts, with revenge filling her angry tortured soul.

Bejuss was completely terrified by her and the vicious storm she had conjured to hide herself. Once her spell was cast he seized upon the opportunity to quickly take flight while she was distracted. Seeking shelter and safety, the old raven flew into Miranda’s stable during the violence of the night.

~~~

     Glob signalled to his brothers to follow him outside into the sunshine. “Brothers, we needs ter finds us some help n quicks sharp like,” the old goblin announced as a look of deep concern for their friend Mica and the villagers, mixed with fear of what the witch might do next, rapidly spread across his face. “Neo, takes Miranda n head east ter finds our friend Brilith n brings her back ere afore nightfall. Now orf wiv yer sharpish like,” Glob commanded. Neo quickly explained to his dear friend Miranda what was needed and soon the pair galloped east through the woods. “Right Mous, takes Make n go n check on yung Mica n sees how he is – orf with yer now, no times ter waste!” Glob began. “I’ll goes orf ter the south on the valley n summon Yathle. We needs her help agin. Dark deeds require powerful weapons ter counter em.” Glob took off at a steady loping pace carrying his magical staff with its emerald tip to summon the goblin friendly wyvern. By nightfall Neo and Miranda had returned with the white witch Brilith, who along with the rest, sat in a tight circle hidden from view beneath Yathle’s great spiked wings in a council of war.

~~~

     The black slit pupils of Yathle’s mesmerizing golden eyes expanded as the evening light faded. She looked at each and every one of the small band in turn. Her great armoured head, similar in shape to her distant cousins, the dragons, twisted and inclined slightly as she carefully studied her companions. Her snakelike tail with its vicious barbs swept slowly from side to side tearing up the grass, briar patches and nettles behind her. The metallic coloured scales on her chest barely flexed as she breathed. Her thick and powerful legs with their two toed feet, each armed with razor sharp claws, bent at the knee allowing her to sit on the ground. She had willingly come before when Glob had summoned her to do battle with the griffin. Now she was ready once again to serve her goblin friends in their hour of need in any way she could.

“Cazophen muzt av a weaknezz,” Mous offered.

From his perch within the witch cage, Bejuss lisped, “thhe duth; thhe love’th the thound on pipeth.”

“What iz pipez?” Mous wondered out loud, shaking his head as he desperately tried to understand the old bird’s lisping speech.

“Shuddup Mous! E means pipes – pipes yer plays musik wiv.” Neo grumbled, feeling decidedly nervous, encircled as he was by Yathle’s wings, feeling her hot breath on the back of his head.

“Zorryz I’z zure,” Mous muttered angrily under his breath.

“Still it cud comes in handy like,” Make added, puffing on his pipe, “knowing her weakness I’s means.”

“Brilith have yer any suggestions?” Glob asked of the plump, kind hearted white witch.

Before she could reply, Yathle stretched her wings and said, “I have a suggestion my dear, if Brilith will excuse my interruption. My nose will soon smell Cazophen out once I’m up there in the sky. But we need to draw her out from her hiding place first. Who among you can play the pipes?” she asked, as a tiny puff of smoke escaped from her nostrils.

“I’s can. I’s knows how,” Byz replied, much to everyone’s surprise. From beneath his jerkin, he produced a new set of reed pipes and began quietly playing a pretty tune. Since he had been forcibly confined, tethered to one or other of his brothers, Byz had found a talent he never knew he had.

“I can conjure a protection spell for the whole humin village in the meantime. At least that way they will not be attacked again,” Brilith added, moving a little distance away to prepare the spell. And so, slowly but surely a plan began to be formulated. Byz with his pipes would be tethered to an oak sapling in the open grassland north of the village, where on a prearranged signal he would begin to play. Meanwhile Brilith would stand at the centre of the village square, ready to counter any further spells that Cazophen may cast. Glob, Neo, Make and Mous would search out the cave guided by Bejuss, who solemnly promised not to fly away.

~~~

     As the first rays of the dawn slowly filled the sky, Cazophen was busy searching for her familiar. “Bejuss, where are you? I need ye eye to search the village and report back to me, blast ye! Bejuss, Bejuss, blast ye bird where are…” Cazophen’s cries fell silent when she heard the most beautiful sound she had ever heard in her entire tortured existence drifting up to her on the morning air from somewhere below. Byz’ haunting melody completely mesmerized her. A smile broke free from her hideously disfigured face. She turned her head left and right trying to determine where the music was coming from. Now completely under the music’s spell, she stepped out from the shadows of her cave and hobbled trancelike down the wooded slope.

Yathle flew south away from the valley before climbing high into the sky, then turned north and slowly circled overhead ready to strike. Brilith readied herself for a battle with Cazophen’s dark magic in the village square. Glob, with Bejuss guiding them from his perch on the old goblin’s shoulder, closely followed by Neo, Make and Mous, steadily climbed through the thickly wooded slopes of the valley towards Cazophen’s cave. The raiding party stopped briefly just outside its entrance. Bejuss flew ahead and carefully peered inside before returning, happy that the cave was empty. Between them, the raiding party destroyed everything within the cave’s confines before rapidly retreating back the way they had come.

Cazophen hobbled her way out from beneath the tree line and moved towards where Byz sat tethered, happily playing his pipes, oblivious to the danger that steadily approached him. Yathle’s keen eyesight focused on the black witch far below before she began a silent but swift power dive towards her quarry. Brilith stepped forward, wand in hand, ready to parry any attack from Cazophen. Glob, Bejuss, Neo, Make and Mous watched the battle slowly unfold before their eyes from the confines of Miranda’s stable, after returning from their mission to the cave.

The spell of Byz’ haunting melody was shattered irretrievably when the ground around Cazophen suddenly erupted in a wall of flame when Yathle delivered a fire bolt from her flared nostrils. At the same moment Brilith conjured a powerful wind and sent it towards the flames. The wind rapidly turned them into a twisting fiery vortex that lifted Cazophen bodily into the air. Meantime Yathle twisted at the last possible moment from her headlong flight towards the ground and seized Cazophen in her cruel claws before biting off her head.

With the death of Cazophen, the power of her spell of revenge was broken. Soon Mica and all of the humins recovered. Not one of the plucky band who had saved the day told the humins anything of the affair, or of Cazophen. Better that they simply thought they had been struck down with terrible ills. Free once more, Bejuss chose to stay with his friends till the end of his days, while Brilith returned to her home in the east unseen by the humins, and Yathle returned to her home beyond the world. Given their fear of magic, there are things in Goblindom that humins should never ever know about. What recently happened was definitely one of them…

More later,

😉

Oh what an idiot!

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A couple of days ago my number one Sony Vaio laptop finally curled its toes and died, having its equivalent of a heart attack when its hard drive went into melt-down. Nothing unusual in that – even technology has to wear out! After all I had been using it on a daily basis three hundred and sixty-five days a year for the last three years.

The only major setback for me was that I was only three stories from the end of the third edition of my reworked fantasy anthology Globular Van der Graff’s Goblin Tales. While I’d religiously saved its file to the hard drive, like an idiot I hadn’t backed it up on a flash drive!!!

Fortunately I have another Vaio laptop (this one) which still works. So, it looks like I’ll be starting the rewrite once again. This time I will back up the darned file as well as saving it to this laptop’s hardrive. I retrieved the new cover, family portrait and map of Goblindom from a file here on my WordPress blog.

I was so damned close to finishing the third edition for the ebook marketplace, so very close. Serves me right for being an idiot and not backing up my crucial files…

😦

Morweth’s Speech

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In every fantasy story there is always good and evil. In my anthology Globular Van der Graff’s Goblin Tales, one of the good guys is the ancient white wizard Morweth. To give you a flavour of him, here is a speech he delivers right at the beginning of part two of ‘Beware on Crellen’s Mine’.

~~~

Morweth ended a heated argument over what they would do with the black wizard Crellen when they finally caught up with him. He knew only too well that this was the time for wisdom, magic and cunning not simple blind angry revenge. “No, no, no, Crellen must not die! Goblindom exists because it is in total equilibrium, unlike the world beyond our magic border. Life and death, growth and decay, summer and winter, and in magic’s case, good and evil, all contribute to keeping us hidden from prying eyes. Should any of these elements necessary to our very existence cease to be, the magic barrier will simply dissolve, and our part of the world will be ended forever, overrun by the hated humans. If you will dear friends, Goblindom and everything in it will soon be forgotten. Our capability to live in peace together and converse with each other, be we witch or wizard, raven or eagle, humin or goblin, wyvern or griffin, ogre, troll, elf, mountain gremlin, even dragon, will also end. The human’s world beyond our barrier is in a state of chaos. The different kinds living in it cannot understand each other anymore. Consequently they live in fear and kill rather than live side by side like us. Any mutual trust between all living things that they may have had is gone for all time. It’s a case of balance, do you see.”

~~~

As Bejuss the one eyed lisping raven with the twisted beak would say, were he actually here and not merely flying around in my mind, “Well that’th yer lot – rarrk!”

😉

Another teaser

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The following short extract from one of the thirty tales of the anthology, describes the real enemy of every living thing in Goblindom…

~~~

Crellen the black wizard stood up, cleared his throat and addressed the assembly. “Aeons ago in the time before, after we had banished the humans, we placed a wall of magic around our part of the world to protect ourselves from everything beyond our borders. If these humans find a way through, we must destroy them where they stand by any and all means at our disposal. Magic still rules here, not metal! We cannot allow these accursed humans to invade. While we fight amongst ourselves, our squabbles are as nothing compared to the evil these creatures present to all living things in Goblindom. How many of them exist is anyone’s guess? There may be thousands of them. I have heard of their ways from other wizards further to the south, as you have too I think Morweth.”

Morweth and Brilith both nodded their heads in agreement. Crellen continued, “whenever humans encounter anyone passing for witch or a wizard in their land, they burn or drown them. In the part of the world humans dwell in, there is no room for magic of any kind, no matter that their ills are still cured by magic’s practioners in the form of healers. They plunder, slash and burn forests, laying waste to every living thing. They kill for food, or for pleasure. They make war on their own kind for land. They share nothing with all the other kinds who live where they dwell. They either kill or enslave all they conquer. Humans are truly evil. They must be driven from here. Then once we have rid ourselves of them, we must reinforce our wall of magic to hide our land forever. In time we may even need to travel to their homeland to annihilate them all.”

~~~

Crellen’s description of our species pretty well sums us up, wouldn’t you say?

More later,

😉