The travel south dragged on into a haze as the sun beat down against the wagon. The group was getting closer to the desert day by day. Everyone was quiet as the sun’s heat swept over them, trying to save energy as they all pushed ahead. At night they all talked and joked with each other, a nice break from the unknown ahead.
The first night they had all stumbled over each other like children. James took the lead, giving orders to everyone so that everything that needed to get done did. In just a few short days they had become a family. The road would do that to you. They all worked better together now. Everyone did what they were supposed to and they started to learn to live together – the road did that to you too.
At night was the only time Freya’s mind was at rest. It came in the moments when she could watch the stars, escaping into the void above, trying not to dwell on the path ahead. She sat gazing up at the blanket of unknown possibilities that seemed within arm’s reach.
James cleared his throat as he stepped up to the small fire she was tending, taking a seat across from her. Freya stood and grabbed a piece of bread from the wagon behind her. Splitting it into two she tossed James a piece as she sat back down, leaning against the wagon’s wheel.
“Nice night,” James said as he caught the bread and started to rip a piece away.
“It is,” Freya agreed as she placed her long legs up on some firewood.
She looked around the small camp they had made for the evening. It was just off the main road, but not too far that one was asking for trouble. It was a little tight fitting the wagon, the horses, and the rest of them comfortably within it but the argument had been made that being closer was better if someone, or something, should come upon them.
Her eyes quickly scanned the tree line as the others moved about the camp setting up what they needed. They hadn’t come across anyone on the road so far, and the nights had been going by peacefully. This didn’t stop Freya and the others from being on alert however. On the road it wasn’t a matter of if you came across something, it was when.
The party had been warned of goblins within the next stretch of the journey. So they all kept watch whenever they could.
Freya looked back at James in time to see his gaze sweep the tree line behind her as well. She smiled to herself. It was good to be working with him again.
Freya took a bite of bread as her gaze went back up to the sky. She felt the warmth coming from the fire drift over her legs and up to her cheeks. It was peaceful.
“So,” James said starting to pull off another piece of bread. “What’s on your mind?”
James scoffed causing Freya to look back at him. “We both know that you usually have something on your mind.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that is so,” James stated as a devilish smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.
Freya’s eyes narrowed, but she smiled back at him. “Perhaps I just don’t feel like sharing.”
“That would be a first,” he chuckled back.
“I didn’t realize you were keeping score,” Freya said as she ate another piece of bread.
James laughed. It was a hearty laugh, genuine. The sound sent a shiver down her back. He was looking down into the fire and Freya caught herself staring. They hadn’t shared a moment like this in a while.
James caught her eye and smiled around another chunk of soft bread. It was hard to resist that smile and Freya found a smile of her own.
“Do you remember that night when we were younger,” James took a moment to swallow his dinner, his eyes lost in the fire. “And you were sitting by the oak tree where we used to play?” He glanced back up at her.
Freya reached down and grabbed her flask. “I do,” she said as she took a sip. “I had just gotten into trouble with my parents. I don’t remember what it was over, but I remember being so angry.” Freya sighed and took another swig from the flask.
“Yes, you were,” James said. “But you were just, staring up at the sky. You looked like you didn’t have a care in the world, and at the same time, you looked like you carried the weight of it.” He smiled to himself. “You know what I was thinking when I saw you that night?”
Freya didn’t get a chance to answer as an arrow flew past her ear and landed in the side of the wagon with a thunk.
Freya and James both moved towards each other, keeping low and drawing their weapons as they did. “We have company!” James yelled out, as a few more arrows found purchase in the wagon.
Looking about they could see that the others already had weapons drawn.
Freya and James looked out into the treeline. That was when they appeared, rushing through the undergrowth – goblins with their green skin, jagged teeth, and red beady eyes.
The fight hadn’t lasted long. The goblins were cut down swiftly, except for one. They had left one alive hoping for answers.
The little goblin looked up at the group with the ropes tied around it. Samson had been threatening it for the past few minutes to no avail. It was starting to get frightened. Samson’s frustration was clear. They weren’t sure what laid ahead in the desert but this goblin might be able to shed some light on what was to come. The goblins in the area were nomadic and roamed the desert. They were trying to convince him that he should work with them and guide them through the desert.
Samson’s intimidation was clearly making the little beast scared. The group knew that his fellow goblins lying dead near him were not helping the goblin find courage anytime soon.
“Help us or you will end up like your friends,” Samson was saying as Freya walked back to the group. She had walked away from the scene, not wanting to be a part of it. Having been tortured and beaten down before she hadn’t wanted to witness it.
The little goblin started to speak with a shaky voice, “Me good hunting. Do anything. Join.”
Samson screamed in anger. “I don’t know what he is saying!” He threateningly held up his guisarme, poised above the goblin’s throat. “Help us or die!”
“Wait!” Freya shouted as she came into view, the fire casting light over her face. “He is answering you!”
“What is he saying?” Samson asked, the anger and frustration laced through his tone.
Freya looked around at the others. By the looks on their faces no one knew what the little creature was saying but her. It was clear that no one else in the group spoke goblin.
“He said that he is good at hunting and that he will do anything to join us,” she stated plainly. She walked her way over to the them. She moved Samson aside and knelt down in front of the little creature. A look of relief swept over his face as Samson’s weapon was taken with him.
The goblin was small, almost too small. He was clearly the runt of the group. His eyes were wide as he looked around at everyone. He clearly didn’t understand everything they were saying either.
“Can you help us navigate the desert?” Freya asked in goblin.
“Small tribe. Move. We must move. Leader knows how. Me leader now,” he said back with relief in his eyes. He was grateful that someone was able to understand him. It dawned on Freya that they probably didn’t ever talk to anyone outside of their tribe. Their lives consisted of scavenging and killing to survive.
“Can you help us navigate the desert?” Freya looked him in the eyes as she asked. She wasn’t sure if he was to be trusted.
“Tribe is small. But move,” he said again.
Freya sighed heavily at the response, but she believed he was being truthful. The leaders were the ones that knew how to navigate the desert. But this goblin wasn’t the leader.
The others looked on as Freya and the goblin exchanged words. To them, Freya was just making guttural noises with a mixture of tongue clacking sounds.
“He is not the leader,” she said to the others. “He won’t be able to help us navigate the desert.” She saw the looks of disappointment. She saw the wheels turning for Samson. He no doubt was just planning on killing the little thing. “But he could still be useful,” she ventured.
“How so?” Samson asked.
“If he travels with us then we might be able to avoid the goblins altogether. He will also know more about surviving the desert than we will.”
The rest of the group looked around them. The fight had not lasted long and they had been successful, but the goblins had proven to be a nuisance. They carried poison tipped spears, a vast array of darts, and their teeth could rip flesh very effectively.
Samson rubbed at a spot on his arm where a poison dart had found purchase. He understood their tricks first hand.
“He wants to join us?” James asked.
“Yes,” Freya said looking him in the eyes.
James took a moment to think. She could see the wheels turning as he thought it over. “Why?”
“Well for starters we just took away his tribe, and his leader. He has no one else and joining us is better than death,” she didn’t shift her gaze from James.
The others all waited for James to decide. “You’re the only one that can understand him,” he said plainly. She knew what he was saying, she would have to be responsible.
Freya glanced at the goblin. He didn’t know what they were saying but when she looked at him he gave her a wide toothy smile.
She smiled back and removed a small dagger from her thigh. The goblin’s eyes got wide and he started to try to shift away to no avail.
Freya moved into his face, her dagger in hand, gesturing as she spoke. “This is my tribe. I will do anything to protect them. If you join us, you are apart of this tribe and you are responsible for keeping them safe.” The others looked on unsure of what she was doing. She waited a heartbeat, twirling her knife. “Understand?” Freya asked.
“Yes. Yes. Understand.” He said nodding his head. “My tribe.”
Freya moved forward and undid the rope that held him in place. “What do we call you?”
“Gobtok. Me Gobtok.”
She turned to the rest of the group. “Call him Gobtok,” she said as she went to where she had been sitting when they had been attacked. She grabbed her bread and broke off a piece handing it to Gobtok. His slim green hand reached out and grabbed the food.
“Welcome to our tribe Gobtok,” she said in goblin.
He smiled ear to ear this time. All of his teeth, jagged and pointy, showing through and his small red eyes were lit with excitement.