“I think he’s dead,” Macilo said, his words blurred by moonberry wine.
The elf pressed the toe of his boot to the goblin’s ribs.
“Kicking him won’t help,” Mastano, his brother, observed.
The elves sighed and surveyed the room. The lute player strummed in the corner, each note off-key in a particular way that rattled and offended the teeth more than the ears. For a moment, the elf brothers were not concerned with the possibly dead goblin prince on the tavern floor. For a moment they were not concerned with the dozen or so goblins draped over tables, slaver like spider silk dangling from their jowls, the hundreds more camped outside.
Macilo narrowed his eyes at the lute player, plucked an arrow from his quiver, then patted his forest green robes.
“You traded your bow for a sack of magic dust three hours ago,” Mastano said.
“Cursed moonberry wine. That was father’s bow.”
Mastano nodded, “If it helps, brother, the gnome said it was his father’s magic dust.”
“We need to get Prince Lugdeth out of here. If a dead goblin prince is discovered in our humble roadside tavern it could reignite the Goblin Wars.”
“Why did he host his stag party here?” Mastano whined.
“Well, brother, my Goblin-tongue is a bit rusty, but I believe they sought to escape the many spies of his soon-to-be-betrothed, Princess Spittle.”
“Is that her real name?” Mastano said, lip curled into a sneer.
“It means something different in Goblin. Anyway, this tavern, by my estimation, is the furthest drinking establishment from goblin lands. No spies unless they are within the party.”
The room reeked of smoke and vomit, the latter sweetly tinged from the overly sugared moonberry wine for which the region, and the tavern were famous.
“How do you suppose he died, anyway?” Mastano asked, nudging the body again.
“Well, they drank everything.”
“So? Goblins can hold their wine.”
“Everything…” Macilo nodded to the top shelf behind the bar, now bare.
“Oh, right, the poisoned wine. We really need a better system for that. I almost drank it myself last week. So what do we do with him?”
Mastano twirled his silver hair as he thought.
“A decent one? A three day ride from here, in the Forgotten Forest.”
“Do you know the way?”
“No, I forgot. I think that’s the point. It’s never where you expect it to be. Nawelo is about twenty miles from here. We could make it to him before sunrise,” Macilo said as he began to search the dead goblin’s pockets.
“Wasn’t he cast out of the Wizard’s Guild for unethical practices?” Mastano asked.
“No, he was cast out of the Guild of Wizards. Totally different entities. He is a terrible wizard, but he’s cheap and close,” Macilo transferred the goblin’s pocket change to a pouch on his hip.
“We can’t very well leave him, can we?” Mastano asked.
“Wouldn’t be a good look. Two missing elves and a dead goblin prince in their tavern. We can sneak him out the back and take him with us. Leave a note about looking for wenches or something.”
“There are no elf wenches.”
“And goblins can’t read. But, they are excellent at pretending. Let’s go.”
The elf brothers propped Prince Lugdeth up with sticks and rope and sat him astride the only horse in the stable who did not mind being ridden by a goblin. It was mostly the smell and the goblin’s habit of relieving itself without dismounting. That horse had lost its sense of smell and found the occasional torrents of warmth invigorating.
One of the two moons was full and tomato red, the other butter yellow and a thin sickle much further away. They guided the horses to a healthy trot, finding a pace that did not cause Prince Lugdeth to topple onto the ground, and used a back road that circumvented the goblin camp.
“Ugh, that camp was five miles ago and I can still smell it,” Macilo said, waving his gloved hand in front of his arrow of a nose.
“Get used to it, brother, that smell lingers long after the goblin has departed. We might need to burn the grass where they slept.”
The intermittent forest gave way to meadows of golden wheat tinted orange in the light of the moon. The stalks shifted in the breeze, and as the dry, brittle heads rubbed together it sounded like the rattles of a thousand serpents. Mastano, the younger of the elves, cleared his throat and sat taller in his saddle. His keen eyes scrutinized the fields, the occasional trees, branches naked in preparation for the long winter to come.
“Brother, do you know who else prefers to travel back roads such as this?” he said, steam issuing from his mouth.
Before Macilo could answer, they both saw the silhouettes of rock trolls, each about the size of a young elephant, lumbering in their direction.
“Curses. Trolls in front of us. Goblins behind. You have no bow and I traded mine for a gryphon,” Mastano whispered.
“No. You traded your bow for a picture of a gryphon,” Macilo hissed in reply.
“That wasn’t clear when we made the deal! And, it’s a nice picture, anyway.”
“Quiet, you’ll alert the…never mind. They see us,” Macilo said.
“You have to speak for us, Macilo. I cannot understand trolls and it always becomes a thing.”
Macilo huffed, “Nor can I, Mastano. Their speech sounds like a dragon choking on hobbits.”
The earth trembled as the rock trolls neared. Elves are swifter and smarter than rock trolls, a fact no rock troll would deny. Many rock troll met its end with an elfish arrow between its eyes. Both parties had cause to be wary of the other. The leader of the rock trolls halted his companions and stepped forward, knuckles carving small rivulets in the dirt path.
“What business do two elves and a goblin have on this road?” the rock troll uttered.
The elves exchanged a glance. Neither understood the mushy words, but they did not want to risk offending him by requesting he repeat the statement.
Mastano cleared his throat, “We are well, friend rock troll, and how are you and yours?”
The rock troll looked to his companions, “We are good, elf. Now, what business do two elves and a goblin have on this road?”
“I think he said the same thing again,” Macilo whispered.
“I know he said the same thing again!” Mastano snapped.
“What do we do?”
“What if we both pretend to load our arrows. They probably cannot see we do not have bows,” Mastano said, then quickly added, “Hey, trolls keep their word, right?”
“We know they are idiots. But, they keep their word, right?”
“As far as I know,” Macilo said.
“Hey troll, I have a deal for you. I will trade safe passage for a gryphon!”
The lead troll smiled.
They reached Nawelo’s hovel an hour before dawn, when the eastern sky was tinged with purple and only the brightest stars remained. It appeared to be a collection of bricks held together by luck rather than a proper home.
Macilo rapped across the door in a specific pattern to indicate he was both a friend and an elf. The sign on the door, which read Nawelo, Founder and President of the Guild of Wizards, canted to the side. There was a commotion from within of pots falling followed by curses in three languages. The door opened, fell off its hinges, then magically repaired itself. The wizard, nocturnal eyes blinking behind handcrafted spectacles, peered into the darkness.
“Ho, Nawelo, we are Macilo and Mastano, elf brothers of the-…”
“Yes, I know who you are! We had drinks together not two weeks ago. You tried to trade me a picture of a gryphon for my staff. What is it you need at his early hour?”
The elf stepped aside and gestured toward the goblin prince, who had slipped along the horse’s side over the course of the journey, and was then jutting from its ribs like a lumpy, green pustule.
“I’ll trade you a mule for the dead goblin,” Nawelo said, stroking his beard, which was as white as the snow-capped mountains behind him.
“We aren’t here to trade him. We need him alive again or we’ll have the whole goblin army in our land. He’s a prince. The heir to the goblin king’s throne.”
Nawelo, smoothed his robes and retreated within the hovel.
“I am afraid this is beyond my skill, elf friends.”
Macilo cast wary glances to the left and right before whispering, “To get to our lands, the goblins will first past through yours.”
The wizard nodded and waved the brothers inside, adding, “Bring the goblin.”
Prince Lugdeth was dumped onto the work bench, his once loose limbs then taught.
“It smells worse than the goblin camp, Nawelo. What poison are you brewing?” Mastano said, plugging his nose.
“Hm? Oh, no, that’s just me. Sorry, I’ll light a candle. Now, I maintain it is beyond my skill to resurrect this goblin. To conquer mortality is a talent attained by very few of my ilk.”
Macilo pressed his fingers to his lips to suppress the urge to vomit. There were nausea-inducing sights at every turn, animal parts and pots of reeking ichor. Most disturbingly, there was a jar labeled Not Elf Ears!!, which Nawelo quickly stowed in a cupboard.
“If it is not possible to conquer it outright, perhaps it can be subdued temporarily? Redirected perhaps?” Mastano offered.
“What do you mean?” the wizard said, looking over the rim of his glasses.
“We do not require him to be alive. We just need him to not be dead for a little while. A day or two.”
The wizard nodded, seeming to understand.
“It is a good thought. However, that particular spell would require at least half a sack of gnome dust.”
“I cannot believe the Forgotten Forest is just beyond the borders of our land,” Mastano said.
“What do you mean, brother?” Macilo asked.
“The Forgotten Forest. We just passed through it not ten minutes ago. Remember, the talking trees? They made fun of your nose? You threatened to come back this afternoon with an axe?”
Macilo shook his head, wiping a tear from his cheek, “I am quite certain that never happened. Ah, here is the goblin camp. Let us send our recently, and temporarily, revived prince on his way.”
Macilo slapped the horse, its saddle wet with vomit and worse, on its rump. It reared, nearly throwing its rider, and galloped into the horde.
A still very confused Prince Lugdeth was greeted with cheers.
“That takes care of that. The wizard was more than fair. The remainder of the magic dust and our solemn oaths that he can harvest our ears upon our deaths in exchange for the spell,” Macilo said.
“Fair, but foolish. Does he not know an elf may live for thousands of years as long as he is not slain in battle?”
“Or poisoned!” Macilo laughed.
“Or poisoned, exactly. Let us toast our good fortune with a bit of moonberry wine. How thoughtful of Nawelo to provide us with his own special brew.”
“Yes, and we will have to borrow his labeling system to avoid a situation like this in the future.”
They passed the bottle labeled Moonberry Wine “Not Poison” between them.