Hendra’s World • Book One • Part One
“Greasy Brown Smoke”
As she scanned the treetops of the Verdin’linder forest from their position high up the mountainside, Hendra spied a thin column of greasy brown smoke worming its way up from the canopy, not far from their own current position.
“I see them.” said Dinha pointing to the grimey wisp in the distance, then she breathed in deeply, and wrinkled her nose, “and I smell ‘em.”
“I smell something else as well.” added Dinah’s daughter Sendi the Beewolf, also inhaling deeply through her wide nostrils. “Just as strange, though not as foul.”
“Humans,” said Hendra. She had smelled them the minute they exited the tunnel. Humans were unique, though not unknown in this part of the world. Their scent was distinct, and not one that Hendra would ever forget.
“This far North? With Goblins?” asked Senhendra.
“They’re probably children,” said Hendra flatly. “Kept for food and worse.”
“Children?” Senhen gripped her spear, and took a step toward the edge of the platform where a steep, rocky staircase sloped downward and disappeared into the treetops.
“Human children,” said Hendra, staying her daughter with a look. “And there will be no rush to rescue them. This is not a rescue mission.”
Hendra raised her hand, stopping Senhen once again, and addressed the group firmly.
”The primary mission of this excursion is to find and push back a Cliven of Goblins spotted by Brownies on the Northern side of the O’Wehlia River. They have apparently crossed the water into Hen’lin, and as we can plainly see…”
“And smell!” interrupted Dinha.
The men laughed.
“…and smell,” continued Hendra, “they are not far from this very entrance to our inner Halls.
“Their purpose is unknown to us,” she went on, “but if the history of Hel is any indication, they are looking for entrances precisely such as this, so that they may burrow deep into our homes, and establish hidden enclaves. We must prevent them from finding this entrance, or any other entrance to our inner realm.”
“Let’s find and dispatch of them quickly,” said Dinha, “So that we may all return to the comforts of your home, Hendra! Excursions are fun, but I came to Hen’lin in search of a worthy Dwarking for my daughter, not a reeking gaggle of filthy Gobs!”
The men all laughed again.
Hendra raised her hand and the group went silent.
“Be grim, good Stalwarts,” she commanded them, her voice low and rough, “Let us not underestimate our enemy, nor forget that our border was once shared with a friendly neighbor, a Dwarven neighbor, whose lands are now held by these same fiends.”
“Agreed,” said Dinha solemnly, “These Goblins, all Goblins, mean us harm, and they are more than capable of causing it. I stand behind you, Hendra, as always. Please tell us your plan!”
“My plan is simple,” said Hendra, “We descend into the forest, track down these vermin, and kill all but one. We find out from our captive how he and his kind crossed into Hen’lin, and stanch any further incursion, then we kill our prisoner and any others we may find. ”
When Hendra was done, Dinha asked if she was sure that there was only one Cliven.
“Could there be more?” She narrowed her eyes, “How reliable is your source?”
“Our woodland allies have told us only of one Cliven, so let us be prepared for 30 at least,” said Hendra.
“These allies are Brownies, you say?” asked Dinha.
“Indeed,” said Hendra.
“They are notoriously unreliable,” said Dinha.
“That’s not true,” interjected Senhen.
“Regardless. We should be ready to face 15, perhaps up to 30 more,” said Hendra.
“Sixty grubs? That’s roughly four to one odds,” said Dinha, unperturbed.
“I can fit five on my spear before it’s full,” said The Beewolf.
The men murmured their admiration for the Beewolf’s prowess, and did not mistake her words to be a boast, but recognized them for what they were: A simple statement of fact.
“Listen,” said Senhen.
“No one cares to hear your opinion on the reliability of Brownies right now,” said Hendra. “We will prepare for 60 grubs…”
“No, listen,” said Senhen again, this time cupping one hand to her ear, and gesturing toward the smoke with the other.
Far away, faint, eerie voices rose and fell in an arrhythmic chant deep in the forest.
“Hel’s tits!” said Dinha, shaking her head. “ Goblins. You’d think they would take precautions to conceal their presence in our land, and yet they light a fire, start cooking Human children, and even begin their infernal chanties. It’s like they want to be found!”
“They may have heard stories, true enough,” said Hendra, “that our Southern lands are no longer as well patrolled or fortified as they once were. They may not expect any resistance to their incursion into Hen’lin.
“When their fire dies down,” she continued addressing the group, “and they are full of meat, bone, blood and gristle, they will grow tired, and eventually lie down in a pile of bodies around the warm embers. They will cover themselves in dead leaves and whatever other soft wet parts of the decaying earth are handy, but they will not be difficult for us to find.”
Hendra crouched, and began to draw a picture in the dirt with her finger.
“This is their fire, these are the grubs. We will form a circle around them in the woods, shields up and spears pointing inward. On my command, we close the circle, and wake them with terror and death. If any manage to run, chase them down. Kill them without mercy.
“Senhen,” Hendra now turned to her only daughter, “No killing for you. You will capture one Goblin grub, preferably the Clubherd if you can find him, and hold him tight until the rest are done for. ”
“Yes, Maiter. But what of the humans? “ asked Senhendra.
“If any still live, they also have knowledge of the way into our lands,” said Hendra. Turning to the men she added, “Kill any humans you find.”
“No!” objected Senhendra, “What if they’re nought but children as you said? Not all Humans are bad people, Maiter!”
There was a long pause while Hendra and Senhendra glared into each other’s deep red eyes from behind black masks. The air was ice cold on the mountainside. The Kaltgap wailed, the chanting of the Goblins rose and fell. Senhen gripped her spear. Her mother was motionless.
“Most of them are pretty fuckin’ bad,” said Dinha at last.
The men chuckled nervously.
“It’s true. All of the Humans I’ve ever encountered have been very, very bad people,” The Beewolf always backed-up her mother. “Some have even tried to kill me! And failed, of course.”
She smiled broadly at the men through her long straight beard, and the Stalwarts laughed again, and began to murmur lightheartedly among themselves, agreeing that they had heard bad things about Humans, although one or two of them had cousins in the South who had recounted positive experiences with Humans as well.
Hendra raised her hand and the murmering stopped.
“Any Human children we find are to be left unharmed,” she said.
Then to her daughter, “If there are any children, and they survive the melee, you will blind them yourself, and escort them further South to Minha’mia’lin where they will be turned over to House Mihn, who will take them in, as is their custom with blinded orphans of all kinds.”
“Must they be blinded?” asked Senhen. Everyone present knew the answer.
Hendra ignored her daughter completely, and looked up at the two moons, then down the steep rocky path that led from the platform to the forest, and said, “Wake the badger.”
Senhendra held her breath, ready to speak, then she turned and entered the tunnel. When she came back out, she was followed by an enormous animal, as tall on four legs as the young Dwarfmaid was standing.
The sleek, wide, black and white beast walked silently and purposefully toward Hendra, until it stood directly in front of her, where it yawned and blinked its dark beady eyes in the skylight. Then it almost seemed to smile before lowering its huge flat head in deference to Hendra the Maid of the North, who placed her hand on the animal’s brow, and also almost seemed to smile.
“Fossahana will lead us through the forest,” she said. “Let us begin our descent.”