“Get moving! We don’t have time for all of you to lounge around!”
Gren clentched his fist and bit his tounge. “You heard our Thran, get to your assigned posts! Send messengers to relay his orders. We have less than a day to prepare!”
“Honestly Gren, it’s like talking to children,” Savar commented.
“Of course, my lord. The men are still adjusting to the changes.”
“They need to adjust more quickly, I don’t have time to make examples,” he replied. “Viktor has made his expectations very clear.”
Gren locked his jaw, barely managing to crack a smile. “We can’t disappoint our patron.”
“See, you understand Gren, unlike this lot,” Savar said, a smile crossing his face. “That’s why I trust you so.”
Gren fought back the bile rising in throat. A sharp pain shot through his forearm and he winced. His hand ached. Fingers practically numb. With Savar’s attention turned away, he took a calming breath and carefully flexed his right hand.
This is becoming unbearable. You’re no better than Viktor’s lapdog.
Since their arrival and his meeting with Viktor, Savar had been behaving strangely. His announcement of fealty was sudden and shocking. When some objected, they were rounded up and immediately executed. Out of fear, the other men had fallen in line, but that didn’t quell their anger.
Fifteen men had died that day. It was something some were unable to forgive. Others whispered about the future and if it was an ill omen.
To kill a Thran is to take all he possesses. Gren dismissed the thought. It was one of the oldest traditions in Sokoras. One that surpassed borders. No, I serve that is my place.
Gren blinked turning his attention from his thoughts. “Yes, my Thran?”
“Finish organizing the patrols, I’m going to inform Viktor of how things are progressing.”
He wide smile the man wore was sickening. Gren felt more bile rising in his throat. It was as if his master was completely smitten with Viktor. “Of course, everything will be ready.”
“Excellent!” Savar replied, taking him by the shoulders and squeezing them. “Just wait, in two days you will see a very different Sokoras, Gren. We will be a nation. One to give the other kingdoms pause.”
Gren forced a smile. “I look forward to it, my Thran.”
With a quickened step, Savar navigated his way through the camp. One he was outside sight, Gren drew his axe and swung it at the supply crate beside him. He screamed, the rage in his heart consuming him.
The cold vanished in the heat of the moment. His chest burning. Lungs on fire. When he looked up, the soldiers around him were all staring, fear and nervousness written on their faces.
“Get! Back! To! Work!”
They all but stumbled in the snow as they moved away from him.
“My, My. It seems something vexes you.”
Gren looked around. The voice was harsh and grating.
“You would do well to watch how you speak. I’m in a foul mood.”
“Oh, that much is obvious,” the voice replied.
Gren kept scanning around him. The tents provided good cover. With his skeggox in hand, he cautiously stalked around the tents for the speaker.
“Hang that skeggox from your belt and I will,” the voice replied.
Gren narrowed his eyes as he scanned the tents and hooked the axe to his belt. A goblin wearing a ridiculous looking crown stepped out from one of the tents to his right. He was surprisingly clean. His leather and hide armor, weapons and appearance was anything but shabby.
“I had heard Illhiem had brought some of his pets with him.”
The goblin simply smiled. His expression giving nothing away in response to the barb. “We follow our Thran, as any good soldier should,” he replied. “Like how you faithfully follow yours despite your true feelings.”
Gren bit his lip. “You should watch yourself, greenskin.”
Again, the goblin kept on smiling. “So should you, unless you want to end up like your master,” he said. “I mean, Viktor always needs plenty of lapdogs. Perhaps he can take you for a walk at his pleasure from time to time. Or pat you on the head as it suits him.”
Gren let his hand slip toward his belt and rushed forward, skeggox in hand. The axe was already in motion, coming round in a quick arc that would sever the greenskin’s head from his shoulders.
The axe never found its mark.
The goblin, being the squat little thing it was had already maneuvered behind him. He felt the sharp point of a blade press against his side. A bit more pressure and it would pierce his through his protective layers, thought his flesh, and into his lung.
“Now, now, don’t be rude. Killing you is too much trouble.”
Gren drew his eyebrows together in frustration. “State your business then leave.”
“Volkin,” he said. “My name is Volkin. How about we retire to that tent? The one I was hiding in and discuss matters like civilized folk?”
Gren felt Volkin’s blade press a little harder. “Agreed, so long as you withdraw your weapon.”
From the corner of his eye, Gren saw that Volkin still held the same bemused smile. “So long as you hook yours where it belongs,” he replied.
Gren took his skeggox and hung it from his belt. Volkin responded in kind by pulling his dagger away and sheathing it. The goblin then slipped past, keeping his back facing Gren as if daring him.
Don’t tempt me, greenskin.
Once inside the tent, Volkin seated himself on the fur pallet and extended a hand for Gren to join him. “Sit.”
Gren frowned, but complied. “What do you want, greenskin?”
The goblin smiled, his sharp canines showing. “I think that is a question you should ask yourself.”
Gren clenched his fist. “I don’t have time for riddles!”
This time, Volkin’s mask cracked and he rolled his large eyes. “Keep your voice down you idiot! I am offering you an opportunity!”
Gren paused, suddenly it made sense. Shock rolled through him. What you suggest is unthinkable!
“Judging by your expression you understand,” Volkin commented. “Then this will be easier.”
“I will not betray Savar…”
Volkin sighed, disappointment written across his face. “Even if he has betrayed all of you?”
It was sad really. The statement alone seemed to shake the poor human to his core. His expression alone spoke volumes of how little he had considered the possibility of betrayal.
You poor soul. How naive are you?
“Savar is many things, but he would never betray his own,” Gren replied.
“Yet, here we sit. He dotes over Viktor’s every word and executes those who disagree. Where is there not betrayal? When has he protected you or told his new master no?” The struggle was lay in the human’s eyes. He was wrestling between truth and loyalty. “I will ask this…What keeps him from executing you? He just said he trusts you, yet how much trust would there be if you were to say something against Viktor?”
He was tense, his eyes searching.
“How about a test, Gren?”
Gren looked up. “What kind of test?”
“Firstly, you will need to find out who among to remains loyal to Savar and who harbors resentment for what he has done. Those who feel betrayed should wear a white cloth band on their left arms.”
“And if Savar should ask why?” Gren responded.
“Tell him Viktor said to and if he demands to confer that with his master, you will tell him that he said the matter is settled and does not wish to hear of it.”
“What will this prove?”
Volkin smirked. “In either case should he seem content, and is without argument or complaint, then you know he has betrayed you. His response will be your answer.”
“What of those who still have faith?”
“Then have them wear one of another color, red perhaps. Either way, as far as anyone will know, you are simply organizing the men for tomorrow's festivities.”
The wheels were turning in the human's mind. Though, the struggle was still written on his face. It was no mystery that men like Viktor and Savar ruled through fear and intimidation. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Goblin society worked the same. Only the most cunning and ruthless stood at the top.
Even so, those like Gren still existed in such environs. It was rare that one would be so loyal. It was such a tragedy.
You poor fool. Even without that potion, you’re no better than Savar. Volkin sighed and stood. I guess I have to kill him.
“If we are betrayed, what happens then?” Gren asked.
“You already know that answer and I won’t spell it out.”
“Then the white cloths…”
Volkin grinned. He understands. Not as stupid as I thought. “As I said, I don’t need to spell it out.”
Gren simply nodded. “You will have your answer by sundown.”
“I’m certain I will.”
Gren stood, Volkin had wasted no time exiting the tent. He stepped out, the cold Sokoran air greeting him heartily. The goblin was just a few paces away when he made an abrupt clicking sound.
One by one, four other goblins revealed themselves, throwing off the white fur cloaks they had used to conceal themselves in the snow. Each carried a sinister grin, pulling their cloaks tighter for warmth as they walked. Soon after they vanished amid the rows of tents in the camps.
He came prepared. It was chilling to think they had been so close and no one had noticed them. Illhiem, just what goes on in your lands?
Gren shook his head and dismissed the thought. There was work to be done and the day was already half spent. He turned, catching sight of a handful of soldiers just a few yards away.
“You lot, come!”
The four of them quickly ran over, their expressions uncertain. It was no surprise, many of the orders today had been disagreeable.
“New orders?” one of them asked.
Gren nodded. “Of a sort. I want you to ask the men about where they stand. I want to know their feelings about our Thran’s behavior.”
Each of them looked at the other nervously. “For what purpose, we have already seen what happens to those who disagree.”
“This is not route and this is not at Savar’s request, but my own. It will not be spoken of. Those who still have faith in our purpose are to wear red on their arms. Those who are uncertain and still angry, are to wear white.”
“And what color will you wear Gren?” one of them asked. He was young, perhaps just shy of twenty-five winters.
“I will reserve my answer for the morning. If you see me wear red, then I expect those bearing white to do the same.”
“Regardless, we will stand with you,” the young soldier said. “I feel something is wrong here.”
His companions seemed uneasy at the younger man’s confession. But their eyes showed they felt the same. “Do this quickly, we have until sundown. Tell the men they are not to speak of this to anyone. We don’t need anyone else dying.”
Each of them nodded and took off. Gren watched them go as an uneasiness settled in his gut. I will play your game, for now, goblin. One way or another I will have my answer.
“What say him, Clever King?”
Volkin glanced over his shoulder. “He say, yes.” The other cackled gleefully. They understood the plan and the chaos that would follow.
“Market on eyes,” another chimed in. “We watch Blades good. Kill all who hurt woman if try.”
“Good, no harm come to her, child and child’s friend. If do, I kill you all!” The color faded momentarily from their faces, but then quickly returned.
“We no fail. We succeed and they fail.”
Volkin grinned. “What of blood-smelling drink?”
“Skixa pissed good,” one of them replied. “Even left floaties. Ruined, undrinkable.”
Volkin stopped and slowly turned to face Skixa. “All of it!?”
The goblin hesitated, confusion on his face. “Skixa do as Clever King say, only two barrels remain. Move barrels to be first ones used. Rinza stay behind to watch from shadows.”
Volkin felt a wave of relief wash over him. Zealotry was a dangerous thing. It wasn’t uncommon for them to try to impress beyond what they were told.
‘What of liquid fire?”
At the mention of the Tinker brewed concoction, their eyes lit up. “Rinza placed in brewery,” Skixa replied. “Will burn good when order given.”
“Rinza give life for cause?”
Skixa shook his head emphatically. “Rinza proud to serve.”
“Good, tell others, anyone with red mark on arm free killin’.”
“Fast and quick,” Skixa replied.
Volkin grinned. “Yes, fast and quick.”