I dozed, however briefly while the others kept watch. Liz woke me after a bit and suggested that we’d given Nebuchadnezzar enough time to spread the word, and that we should move out.
Seemed like the logical thing to do. We regrouped, I tossed off a few minor heals and we set off. The halls around us were abandoned — meals were left on tables. We found one room with a spinning wheel and loom that had obviously been used until minutes before we passed by. Everywhere we went, we found dropped tools, discarded weapons and cowering slaves. Three times we found goblins huddled in rooms, afraid to flee, but having no other direction, chose to stay where they were. Bÿglar had the most experience dealing with goblins and he rallied them to follow us, the whole time asking them questions and probing for knowledge of remaining resistance. They knew little, but it was clear from their words and the evidence we saw that Nebuchadnezzar had done as he promised.
One of the goblins by the name of Ratbiter said he overheard Nebuchadnezzar telling his masters that they should make their way to the central courtyard and await our coming to accept the surrender of the fortress. That seemed like good news. Of course, we were wary and proceeded as if an ambush would appear around any turn.
We scouted for another hour and finding no one else, followed the goblin’s directions to the courtyard. Rufus was dubious, and Bob tolerant but I could tell he really did not like the goblins. They were expecting an ambush of epic proportions. So we were not surprised when it occurred. What did surprise us was who was waiting to cut us down.
Hobgoblins. Two dozen with swords and shields bearing the insignia of the a legion I had never heard of. Bÿglar was apoplectic, however. I was familiar with the Black Heart Legion, of course. They were the ones who had abandoned the Night Wing Legion, my legion, to protect the strategic bridge while they hied off on some other mission. The surviving members of that legion was housed below in the prisons. So who were these new players? And how in the nine hells had they come to be here?
As I had said, we were moving in a typical “we are going to be ambushed in any moment” mode so Sparkle spotted their set up before they saw her. She scooted back to us and reported exactly what she saw, down to the approximate ages of the troops we faced. That girl had a wicked sharp mind. She not only told us how many, and where they were stationed in the room, but described their uniform coloring and visible insignia.
As she was sharing with us , Bÿglar quite literally choked, swallowing and gasping at the same time. Not the brightest moment in the boy’s life, but what can you do. He not only knew the insignia, but was terrified of the hobs who wore them. Of the hobgoblin tribes in the portion of the world, and as far as Bÿglar knew, the entirety of known history, this was the most powerful legion by rumor and myth: The Broken Finger Legion.
Seriously, when he whispered the name, I had to ask him to repeat it, because, you know. NOT SCARY. I mean, sure, names can be misleading. But Broken Finger Legion? I actually laughed, which it turns out, alerted the Broken Finger troops to our presence. So much for stealth. The hobs did not charge into our midst, thankfully, so I decided to follow my last rousing success with diplomacy with another go.
Hob elite warriors are a cut above the normal troops. My body guards, Shadow One and Shadow Two were, or had been, of those elite. They were not just brute force, but could think and use tactics, important things like that. They were also very loyal and obeyed orders from a superior officer without hesitation. That was my best ploy of avoiding bloodshed.
These were some of the very best any legion had to offer and we’d be hard pressed to defeat them without some heavy explodey stuff from Rufus, or losses on our side. Luckily, I also out ranked them. Bÿglar confirmed that the ranks Sparkle had described were definitely elite warriors, but only one was a squad leader, the one with the yellow stripes on his right pauldron. I wanted to mention that yellow frequently denoted cowardice in many myths and cultures that I had read about, but the look on his face was enough to quell my tongue. Still, I needed him, so I pulled him up with me and sent the others back down the hall with the goblins.
Around the bend in the hall was an open room where the hobs had set up behind crates, blocking the exit on the far side that would lead us to the main entrance hall and eventually out to the courtyard. If all the frogs were out there, waiting to surrender, then these hobs must be either confused or led by a very smart strategist. My money was on confused.
I pulled the Night Wing Legion insignia from my pouch and put it on over my right pauldron, making it visibly clear who I represented. Then I pulled out my symbol of rank, Captain in this case, and lay that over my left pauldron. Bÿglar gave me an approving nod and swallowed hard. At least he didn’t choke this time.
Hobs value bravery, honor, and discipline above all else. They respect violence and a forceful leader. I’d walked this walk before. I knew what to do.
I strode boldly down the hall, with Bÿglar at my side. As we turned the corner, he called out in goblin for the warriors to come to attention and salute a superior officer.
Yep, confused. The warriors glanced back at their squad leader, who happened to be standing behind a stack of crates closest to me, so I stormed up to him, swearing with my most colorful Abyssal phrases, one which caused Bÿglar to stumble a step. None of them raised their blades to me, but confusion reigned on their faces. Especially on the face of the squad leader who stood nearly to my height, but with shoulders that would make Bob proud.
“I have taken this fortress,” I bellowed, slamming my mace into the crate in front of the squad leader, smashing the wood and spilling rice onto the ground at our feet. “On whose authority do you hold this position?”
There was a moment right there, a second after I uttered those words, where I could see the calculation in that squad leader’s mind. He could kill me and Bÿglar, likely saving a lot of hassle for himself and his squad. You know that look, Father, I’m sure. The squad leader’s eyes twitched to his squad and he drew a breath.