by Glenn Bresciani
Find the troll that killed the wizard Shellefen, and you’ll find Shellefen’s enchanted dagger. Apparently, so the rumor goes, Shellefen’s dagger once blasted a griffon out of the sky.
For this reason alone, every adventurer in the kingdom is obsessed with Shellefen’s dagger. Many of them have gone on a dagger quest, as they’re calling it. None of them have returned.
I’m not one these adventurers — obviously — but I have been paid three silver coins by two cocky adventurers to pacify this troll with my Sociomancer skills.
This troll’s lair is somewhere inside the ruins of Castle Kahn, which I cautiously approach, my two employers following me.
One of my employers, a Magic-maker, calls a halt before a collapsed section of the wall. Broken stone and mortar have clogged the gap in the wall, spilled across the bailey. Rubble, rubble, nothing but trouble; a dozen nasty creatures could easily find a place to hide.
“Before we set foot in this keep,” says the Magic-maker, sliding a wand out of his belt, “allow me to locate the troll.”
He hums as he waves his wand in a circular motion in front of his eyes. They say it is the tone of the hum that determines the type of spell.
The Stealth-stabber, my other employer, grips his sword handle, sliding half the blade out of its scabbard. I look at the forest canopy above, where the Stealth-stabber’s perceived threat is lurking. Oh, for Mahla’s sake! It’s just a squirrel jumping from tree to tree.
The Magic-maker stops humming, returns his wand to his belt. “I have located the troll in its lair, in a dungeon at the bottom of a well.”
I guide my employers to the gatehouse, as I am paid to do, pushing low-hanging branches away from my face. Following the curve of one of the gatehouse towers, I almost trip over a row of rock stacks, each stack with a squirrel skull on top.
“Goblins!” says the Stealth-stabber, glaring at the rock stacks, pulling the same facial expression one would pull when a bug flies into their mouth.
Not just any goblins: nimble ones, both physically and mentally; a lethal combination in a goblin. You can tell by how high the rocks are stacked. Most of the stacks in front of me are eight rocks high and still standing despite their precarious balance. This rock-stacking grandeur would intimidate any goblin tribe who was planning a raid.
For human adventurers, the rock stacks are fun to kick over, plus a sign that it’s time to draw your sword.
I lead the invasion into goblin territory, the three of us darting into the gatehouse passageway, pressing our backs to the wall. Through the second entrance, we can see the well in the center of the bailey.
“Go to the well after the goblins have surrounded me,” I say to my employers, “not before. Understood?”
The way they’re gawking at me, you’d swear a goblin had already chopped off my head.
“What if the goblins attack you? How will you defend yourself?” asks the Magic-maker. No doubt, it wasn’t my death by goblins that had him worried; rather, it was the inconvenience my death would bring to our dagger quest.
I smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll just convince the goblins that I’m harmless, and they’ll have no reason to attack me.”
The Stealth-stabber glances at my belt where no sword in a scabbard hangs, not even a dagger. “So, all ya do is talk? Why aren’t ya dead?”
I smile again. I’m always smiling. A smile is the only sword a Sociomancer will ever need. “A sword would hinder my talents. I explained this to you before you hired me.”
“Oh, I’m startin’ to wish I’d never hired ya.”
“We had no choice!” the Magic-maker says to his partner. “We didn’t have enough silver coins to pay a warrior’s fee.”
This obsession with swords, how will we — as humans — ever rise above it?
This is why a Sociomancer is forced to sell their services for half the cost of a sword-swinger’s fee.
My employers draw their swords, because, you never know, I may just be the swordless failure they believe me to be. They watch me stride through the passageway, murder holes in the ceiling above me, rows of rock stacks on either side of me, and out into the bailey to face the goblins alone.
Dead leaves and branches crunch and snap under my feet. Good. My noisy arrival will be heard by the whole tribe. The more goblins surround me, the more efficient my talents will be.
Ah, there’s one now, popping its head out of the rubble from a tower that has collapsed in on itself. Up there on the wall, three more of them are sneaking about on what remains of the parapet. Goblin children lean out the windows of the keep, digging snot out of their nostrils with clawed fingers as they stare at me.
How unconventional I must seem to this tribe, whose territory has been constantly invaded by an armored sword-swinger, carrying a sword with a blade taller than the tallest goblin; or a magic-maker humming lethal blue fire into existence. Yet, here I am, dressed in a woolen tunic and leggings, looking as if I had just stepped out of a hamlet to travel to the markets to purchase a goat. My backpack and my bloated wineskin are the only clues that I lead an adventurous life.
All of the tribal warriors, armed with anything ideal for stabbing, scamper over rubble to reach me, their footwork on shattered stonework as nimble as their handiwork when stacking rocks. Even the runts have joined the alphas, confident that they can kill me with little risk to themselves.
I relax my body into an open posture, my hands spread wide to demonstrate my trustworthiness: Look goblins, no sword.
They swarm me, jostling each other to be the one close enough to murder me.
“If anyone stabs the human in the balls, I’ll kill them!” the biggest one, with the longest horns, shouts in its own language. “I will have his scrotum as my dice bag.”
This goblin may be the biggest warrior in its tribe — it certainly looks to be the fiercest — yet it’s still only knee-high to a human.
“But, that’s the only sensitive spot on a human within easy reach,” wails another goblin, only half the size of the biggest goblin. The lower jawbone of a wolf looks lethal in its tiny clawed hand.
“I can see that you are all angry,” I say, speaking goblin, hoping that my hooting and tongue clicking was correctly pronouncing each word. “I would be angry, too, if someone entered my home uninvited.”
The goblins freeze, glance at each other, blinking their large owlish eyes, their hooked ears twitching.
“How’d you learn to talk our talk?” asks a small goblin, its horns thin and crooked like its limbs.
“We Sociomancers have studied many languages,” I say, trying to maintain a calm voice, which is difficult when there are so many sharp objects pointing at my penis. “We consider everyone worth talking to.”
“It’s a trick!” hoots an alpha, saliva spraying out of its mouth. “Kill him! Before he kills us!”
Goblin spit splatters my tunic, yet I remain calm; my professionalism is the only reason this encounter hasn’t escalated into violence. “What reason have I given you to attack me?”
The alpha’s hoots and tongue clicks are low and menacing. “You’re human, that’s reason enough. You humans come here with your swords—” The alpha gasps, gapes at my waist where no weapon hangs from my belt.
“Mm-hmm,” I say, tilting my head slightly to show the alpha that not only am I listening, I’m interested in what it has to say as well.
The alpha growls, its long sharp nose quivering. “You’re hiding a sword behind your back.”
It’s an effort not to frown. Why would it think that when I have my open hands displayed in front of me?
The runts are restless, glancing at the alphas, waiting for them to do something — anything — so they can follow their lead.
I must keep them talking, shift their minds away from hostility. “Tell me, why do you think your home is always invaded?”
“Because a troll lives under our home,” says a goblin with horns curved like a ram.
All of the goblins hiss, bare their needle-sharp teeth. I feel their rage slide off me, slithering off in another direction. Good, my Sociomancer techniques are working.
“How does this troll make you feel?” I say with genuine concern — never mind the goblin spit soaking into my tunic.
Like rabid dogs, foam erupts out of the mouths of goblins as they rage against the troll. I’m sure that if they could’ve acted upon this feeling, the troll would’ve long been dead.
To keep their anger away from me, I ask them more questions concerning the troll. Then I listen, and listen some more as they complain about the bullying, the abuse, and the forced servitude they have suffered.
All of the goblins lower their weapons, their chests heaving from excessive panting. Being angry is exhausting work. No one can keep it up for long.
When I look at a goblin, I don’t see evil as others do. Sociomancy has taught me to reject the duality of good vs evil. What I do see, is a creature no taller than a human child, who feels frustrated and powerless due to the abuse they suffer from ogres and trolls, which are much bigger monsters carrying much bigger loads of emotional baggage. Is it any wonder that goblins sneak into human kingdoms, raiding hamlets and assaulting lone travelers? It’s the only way they can feel they’re in control of their lives.
“This is how I understand the situation. When we humans arrive at this keep to fight the troll—”
“Slaughtered by the troll,” interrupts a runt, small enough to wear a rabbit skin as a cape.
“Thank you for correcting me. When we humans arrive at this keep to be slaughtered by the troll, your tribe is furious, because we humans have to invade your home to reach the troll.”
This is something they can all agree on.
“Besides expressing your anger, what else could you do when your home is invaded?”
“But anger is a natural response. I’m peeved just thinking about it.”
“That’s great. You’re acknowledging your feelings. But, I’m asking: What action could you take?”
I remove the cap from my wineskin, squeezing the bladder to shoot a line of wine into my mouth. All this hooting and tongue clicking is harsh on my throat.
“You mean, like, we should hide ourselves when you humans invade our home?”
All the goblins cackle, their mirth echoing off the defensive walls and the keep.
“That is an option. But what else could you do?”
The goblins “um” and “ah,” some of them scratching their bum cracks as they consider their options.
“We could help the humans fight the troll?”
Ugh! This suggestion is appalling. All of the goblins gasp. The one that spoke receives a head-slap from an alpha.
“I wouldn’t want to see that. Many of you would die fighting someone else’s battle. But, did you know that there’s another ruin in this forest? There’s an old church just north of here.”
The thin goblin with the crooked horns and limbs rubs its pointy chin. I’m guessing it must be the one who does most of the thinking for this tribe.
“Do any monsters lair in this ruined church?”
I shake my head. “None whatsoever.”
“And does this church have a dungeon?”
“Only a cellar.”
“We should move there!” shouts someone from somewhere in the back of the group.
“New home! New home! New home!” the runts chant, beating their weapons on their horns to the rhythm of their hoots.
“Let’s go tell the Matriarch,” says the biggest goblin, shoving its way through his smaller kin. “The almighty mother will know what to do.”
“What about the human?”
“What human? All I see is the troll’s new chew toy.”
All of the goblins stampede across the bailey, bounding over each other to be the first to reach the keep.
Climbing down the well will be easy, since the Stealth-stabber’s rope remains tied to an iron spike hammered into the stonewall surrounding the well. Not once did the goblins nor did I hear the hammer strike the iron spike. The Stealth-stabber’s talent for muffling noise is truly astounding.
Copyright © 2020 by Glenn Bresciani