Redcap climbed to the top of the wall and surveyed his kingdom. To the west, the great forrest of Riulk the vicious elven prince could barely be seen on the horizon. Southwards, the plains of Fenn, and to the north and east, the Clawback mountains. And everything within these borders:
The young green goblin puffed out his chest and called out again. “Mine!”
He beat his breast once, but quickly stopped, wincing in pain. “Dammed elf arrow.” He prodded the spot , feeling a trickle of blood oozing out of the new scab. “Fffffff.... ooey.”
The eastern sky began brightening and Recap slowly climbed down off the stone barricade and looked around the ruins of the fort. The battle couldn’t have been too long ago: The smell of charred wood still filled his nostrils, and more importantly, the Crag-Claw orcs had not yet descended from their mountain caves to ransack the place.
Well, he would have the day, at least. No chance those lazy orcs would bother doing anything that smacked of effort under this sun. He wandered through what must have been the barracks. The stench of elves was strong here. They must have left just a day or two ago. He wondered if they were the same band of highlings who attacked his trading party at the edge of the forrest. They had shot Bends-Twice and Water-Bangs before anyone knew what was happening. Spinner and he got off a few good shots and downed the first one, but without Water-Bang’s sword, they were just outmatched. Pity. The trip had been a waste of time and effort, and a few elven kills could have at least made the 2 weeks’ return journey bearable.
He walked around behind the tiny cabin and examined the ashes of a huge bonfire. Ashes, and sticks... and... bones! This was a funeral pyre! But elves didn’t burn their dead, did they? Redcap scowled and found a broken lance nearby and started poking through the ashes. There were a number of shards, but only three semi-complete skulls that he could find. Two he didn’t recognize - some kind of long snouted thing, but the third was orc!
So that’s what happened here, Redcap thought. He looked around at the ruin of the fort. The gate wall had a large hole where the door used to be... and... there was the door... And the opposite wall - the one he had just climbed - was half collapsed into a five-goblin high pile of rubble.
Stupid orcs. Attacking a elfin fort in the middle of nowhere. You had to know they could see you coming across the plain for leagues and leagues.
Still, redcap had to admire the destruction they had caused. Apparently there were enough of them to wreck the place even without the element of surprise.
His stomach rumbled at that moment, and so he turned his thoughts to food. There were two more buildings to check out here first, no wait - three. But the third was mostly buried under the rubble pile, so it could wait. He went to the larger structure first. It was the main meeting and food hall, he guessed, finding two long tables and a little antechamber with racks and racks of dried fruits and berries.
Hak. Stoop-id faeriekind. Where’s the... ahh! Redcap hopped on a cutting block and pulled a large strip of drying meat off a hook. This’ll do. He hopped back down and prodded open a few jars and barrels, sniffing tentatively; most he decided to leave untouched, but one tiny barrel of some dark syrupy mixture he found quite nice and drizzled about half of it over his steak before wandering back outside, chewing thoughtfully.
The next hut was about half the size of the previous. Inside were dozens of spears, swords, and a jillion arrows and bows. Plus a few pikes and mail shirts and a few weapons he had never seen before.
Ten minutes later, he emerged, covered from head to toe in daggers, short swords, flails, several bracers he had converted into leg armor, and still nibbling his steak, which was now stuck on the end of a halberd over three times his height. The seven sword belts he had donned effectively made a suit of leather armor, as each wrapped around him at least twice.
He moved into the shade of the rubble pile and thought about his next move. He still had an 8 or nine day trek back to the war camp. Twice that if he wanted to carry much of this back with him. And he did. Traveling alone would be extra dangerous, but there wasn’t much choice, now, was there. The main thing seemed to be: no more short cuts through elf infested woods. Stick to the low lands and riverbeds. That would add yet another 3 or 4 days to his journey, but it should get him home alive.
Suddenly, his ear twitched, and he looked up suspiciously. Nope. No bugs or any other movement. He went back to gnawing his steak when it happened again - a scraping sound. Behind him. He jumped up and drew a dagger clumsily from one of his leg belts. He circled the pile and saw nothing. Not even birds in the sky. The air was heavy and hot already, but he could see nothing odd.
Then the moan.
It had come from - from - under the pile? He leaned his pole-arm against the last wooden wall of the crushed hut and crawled part-way up the rubble to listen. He could hear it just barely - a very soft rasping breathing. Someone was under there? And alive? It must be the grandfather of all orcs to have withstood such a pounding. Probably not an orc at all, in fact. Maybe an ogre or troll or even bigger! This he had to see!
He started tossing rocks and bricks from the pile, wondering how far down he would have to go. His many weapons kept catching in the crags and spurs, but he didn’t bother taking them off. After a long while, he looked at the pile he had removed, and the pile he had left, and then up at the sun beating down on him.
Nutz to this. He climbed down and dusted himself off, and then headed back to the dining hut. He found a barrel of water and dunked his head in, gulping noisily. Then he walked over and sat just in the shade of the doorway, looking out at the collapsed wall. After a few minutes of fidgeting, he got up and walked back to his task. “You’re just lucky I got nothing better to do!” he yelled to the mystery moaner. Getting no reply, he went back to work pulling rocks and bricks off of the stack.
An equally long time later, part of the pile shifted on him and a few of the larger pieces he hadn’t been able to budge tumbled away. He looked down into the crags and saw a arm - a scaly arm!
Scales? A lizard man? With orcs? He cleared a little faster and soon had his answer - a Kobold! But this was like no kobold he had seen before; this one apparently had wings. Little leathery wings, bronze and black. One eye fluttered open briefly and stared at Redcap, but the kobold didn’t move otherwise; just lay there wheezing lightly.
Redcap carefully climbed back off the rubble pile and went back to the canteen. He took another long drink from the rain barrel, and then searched and found a small water skin. He filled it and headed back for the final assault. This took almost as long as the first two tries, as he had to go slower to avoid too much debris falling on his prisoner. Once in a while, he would see the kobold had opened his one eye again to watch his progress, but most of the time, it just lay there wheezing or coughing quietly. When he had cleared a large enough area, he got the water skin and sprinkled a few drops on the Kobold’s mouth. His eye shot open at that, and he greedily smacked his cracked lips for more.
“Yeah, yeah. Gotta take it slow. You’ve been under here for a while, I guess, and you can’t drink too fast at first. Least that’s what they tell me.” He drizzled almost half the bag, a few drops at a time, with the pinned Kobold gasping and chomping for every drop. After a bit, Redcap sat back and took a long swallow himself. Your legs pretty torn up, ya know? And I can’t even guess about your wings. Did you know you have wings?”
Redcap looked slyly at the kobold, who just stared back, his expression unreadable. “Can’t believe you survived this in the first place. You had a whole wall fall on you. BIG wall! It looks like it knocked you deep into negatives. You got the luck of Ravenbeard to have stabilized for so long. You should be dead!” Redcap took another quick sip, and carelessly poured some more onto the prone reptile.
“Thing is... I don’t know nothing ‘bout healing or such. Other than stoppin the bleeding, I can’t do much for you. And I can’t stay here after tonight, either. Too dangerous. The Crag-claw orcs won’t waste much more time if they think this place is as defenseless as it is. And I ain’t carrying your scaly butt all the way back to my camp. So what I’m sayin is... I’ll get you out of there - but you on your own after that.”
The kobold was glaring at him now - his one good eye tightly slitted in anger.
“That’s the spirit. Now let’s see. Hmm.” Redcap grabbed the kobold’s two arms and pulled up. This elicited a sharp cry and jerk, and the patient fell back into his hole. The scream was quite piercing.
“Ooo. That left wing don’t look too good either. Brother, you’re a mess!”
The kobold was too busy gasping for air and whimpering to respond. Redcap tried again, this time more carefully lifting under the armpits. The kobold grit his teeth and gave a high pitched guttural roar, but didn’t jerk away this time. Redcap was able to pull him about a foot up, so that he was in a reclining position, before stopping again. The kobold’s leg looked like it was still pinned under a board, and would have to be freed before he could be lifted all the way out. Above them, the rubble pile groaned and rumbled, and a fresh rain of dust and pebbles came down on both their heads.
“Ah, dammit. Uhh. Look, don’t flip out on me, but um... I can get your leg out, but it’s gonna cost you. You think you have 3 points left?”
The kobold’s eye widened in fear, and he gave a tiny shake ‘no.’ Above them a loud snap startled them as some beam broke in two. Redcap scurried off the pile and stood back staring at the whole set up. And the more he looked, the less he liked. He paced back and forth once or twice, checking all sides, and then went back to his excavation. “Well, then! Guess it sucks to be you, ‘cause I’m not risking my life digging any more.”
The kobold made a grab for his arm, but just missed. Redcap leaned back, laughing, and then climbed back to the ground. “Nice try! You got great fighting spirit. Look me up in the afterworld. I’ll buy you a proper drink. None of this elf water crap.”
A pleading grunt came from under the rocks, and Redcap almost went back to him, but instead scowled and turned and stomped into the guard quarters. He plopped down on one of the cots and took off most of his weapons before lying down. He lay on his side, arms crossed and stared at the empty bunks across the room. He growled and flipped over to stare at the wall for another minute. Outside he heard some more rumbling and the hiss of more debris falling. Then for a ten-count it was quiet. Then another ten count. Then another. At last he sprang from the bed, eyes black. “Damn You! FINE!”
He stormed out of the barracks shredding a blanket into strips. He went into the mess tent and dunked a 3 foot piece of cloth into the rain barrel and rolled it up loosely as he stomped back to the rubble. He got to the hole, and the kobold looked up at him in surprise.
“I’m gonna move that log, and pull you out, and I’m gonna do it fast and I’m not in the mood to hear any more of your screams, so you just clamp down on this! ‘Cause it’s gonna hurt. A lot!” He held the rag in front of the kobold’s snout and he obediently opened up and took it in his jaws.
Redcap was right.
It hurt like hell.