Disclaimer: These characters, places, and titles belong to Hilari Bell, author of Goblin Wood. She developed them, not me.
The hedgewitch stood high above the freshly grown Spring canopy over the Goblin city, her shadow elongated behind across a jutting cliff. Gazing into the distant horizon that was illuminated by the mellow glow of the setting sun, Makenna watched as a Goblin expedition, led by Tobin, made way for the uncharted lands of Otherworld. It seemed they had only just settled, having hardly enough time to gather rosters of residents before goblins felt the need to explore their limitless surroundings. The threat of humans and the old realms Hierarchy long passed, they allowed the band to leave, with the promise that they would return in four months time.
She had wanted to refuse blatantly, wishing nothing more then for them to live in undisturbed peace and prosperity for the rest of their days, but fate would have it another way. When Tobin offered to lead the expedition, as an act of reassurance to Makenna, his gesture only caused her to produce an unwilling compromise.
Now, on the very day they left, she observed their departure wearily until the cover of darkness urged her home. Following the disguised trail back to the city, which resided in the nook between two mountain sides, she gathered her wits, blinking away misty eyes and hardening her resolve to complete leftover tasks concerning the city's development while her friends were gone. In a single gulp she swallowed her sadness, her expression stiffening as she hiked.
Makenna wiped a sweaty brow under the harsh late afternoon sun, her face tanned from days of working in the harvest fields. That day, from dawn until a now approaching dusk, she had escaped from her complicated duties to work fervently, plucking ripened vegetables and fruits from the lush rows of tilled land lain out before the mountainside. Surrounded by all sorts of sizes and talented goblins, with her city humming lively behind her, she felt safely at home.
"Mistress," Onny called in approach, breaking Makenna's thoughtless stare. She knelt down to meet the young goblin girl, who hardly stood as high as her knee. "Yes, Onny?" The Finder clutched her food soiled apron, eyes twitching nervously to the fields northernmost perimeter.
"One of the herbers saw a large group of people nearing the forests edge from the herb groves. They said the band was made of strange creatures, should I find Miggy for you," Makenna shook her head, chest tightening as fear gripped her for the first time since the centaur creatures had approached. The centaurs had arrived in vast numbers, first frightening the goblins into thinking they planned to attack. Instead, they sent an ambassador in, merely wishing for diplomacy; to make a friendly truce to remain distant, but not unaware of one another's affairs. They were just one of the many creatures the Goblins had encountered on their travels in Otherworld.
With a shaky breath she exhaled her unease, allowing the calm of planning to take over. "No, I think I know where Miggy is, I will find him. Gather all the Finders and harvesters from the fields and bring them back to the city. We will be taking defensive action immediately," With a note of authority, she dismissed Onny, cutting a button of her loose tunic shirt and handing it to the girl. Then, setting down her basket of berries, she sprinted down the long rows towards the western outskirts of the fields. Rushing past hidden roadways in the sapling forest towards the Goblin's watchtower, Makenna nearly missed the group of camouflaged Stoners as they fled their construction work.
"Gill!" she called after one of her friend's son. The young goblin boy was larger than the rest, half Makenna's own height. He halted mid stride at Makenna's voice. "Y-yes Gen'ral?" he asked, taking a rigged soldier's stance and facing her. The others waited a moment before continuing on onwards to the city without him.
"What news have you of the creatures approaching?" Gill blinked blankly a few times before procuring an answer, side glancing at the direction he had arrived from. "T-the creatures? They are ...nearly here! We should retreat to the city right now," he said before trying to dart off into the darkening woods. She blocked his path, still wanting answers. He knew how to escape easily, why is he so eager?
"Are there anymore workers left behind you, and wasn't Miggy with you?" The goblin boy shook his head rapidly, his messy brown hair tossing back and forth. "No, Gen'ral, no one, let's go!" he called, finally dodging passed her and disappearing into the forest. With no defense at her back, she was forced to retreat to the city like the rest.
"What do you mean you lost sight of them?" Makenna's tone was irritated, her attempts at keeping calm failing. Miggy stood stark still, his eyes cast down from his mistress while he spoke. "It was an innocent mistake Gen'ral. The Trackers are busy hunting to the woods in the east. They'll be back by morn, not a second sooner. It's not our fault the creatures seemingly disappeared from under our noses," he explained, voice steady.
Makenna hid her annoyance behind a clenched jaw. She turned to pace in an unoccupied corner of their armaments fortress, her rapid footsteps echoing around the carved out cave. Currently most of the citizen goblins were in the upper tiers of the city, finding safe shelter from the possible threat of attack. Makenna and her small army of 500 goblins waited in the battlements which guarded the entrance to the higher city as it sloped up the mountainside. She'd strategically placed Flamers, Stoners, and Charmers all along the upper city's perimeter to ensure the people's safety. Now, her heart beat in quick succession as she planned her next action.
"Gen'ral!" called an exasperated goblin from the crack entrance of the cave. He slid through, past the draperies hung for warmth for the oncoming autumn, and ran up to her, panting. "What is it?" she demanded. The goblin pointed back towards the lower levels of the city. "They're here! In the city!" he cried dramatically. Makenna cocked and eyebrow, catching a glimpse of a smirk playing on Miggy's lips. "What is going on here?" she asked genuinely before rushing outside into the almost set sun.
As she neared the edge of the cave opening, she peered over the stone and molder wall to see a massive group of Goblins approaching them through the city's main path. Their observant eyes caught her through the leaf filled canopy, and the group waved enthusiastically, many shrieking cheers of joy and jubilation. Makenna let a breath out she hadn't known she was holding. Using the wall for support as waves of crashing relief tumbled over her, she gave up battling her bursting tears. They're back, they're finally back. She turned, sending a glare of annoyance mixed with affection at Miggy and the goblins, who smiled mischievously, their deception having been extracted perfectly.
"Mistress!" suddenly cried master Erebus as the goblins near her station, the old goblin's body tittering back and forth as he waddled to greet her. She knelt down, arms wide and hugged him tightly. "Where have you been you heathens, you're nearly a month late! St. Agna help me, I'm going to wring your necks-" she began sputtering, wiping her watery eyes. "I can't wait to tell you of what we've discovered! Well, if you offer knowledge of what's taken place here of coarse," the Bookie trailed. As goblins filed past, the last of the expedition group returned in good spirits, meeting loved ones that came spilling from the upper tier of the city. From the crest of her vantage point, Makenna saw a familiar mop of brown hair gradually rise above the path.
As Tobin approached, Makenna oddly noted her loneliness seemed to melt away. She loved her goblins, they were all she had, but her human side yearned for a familiarity that the goblins could not provide. She'd no idea just how much she had missed Tobin until she began to feel back to normal once again.
Observantly she marked his appearance had hardened from months of travel. His hair was slightly longer, but one side was still neatly tucked behind one of his ears, his face was sober, but his eyes twinkled. "Tobin!" she called, hardly caring to stop herself from running towards him like some desperate child. He dropped his bags, arms open until they embraced. The ex-knight laughed as she refused to pull away, his chest jostling up and down in amusement.
"Should I go away more often? It seems I'll never get this attention if I don't," he admitted, grinning. Makenna pulled away finally, crossing her arms on her chest tartly. "You go away again, and you'll be met with a barrage of spears and stones upon your return," she said, eyes narrowing in warning, but her face then softened. She turned about to watch as families met their long gone loved ones, goblin chatter echoing through the woods. "I'd best get some food for you hungry explorers' I guess,"
With the sun now down, torches lit their way back through the woods to the battlements hall, which also served as a place for community feasts. Over her time here, Makenna has seen that many of the goblins were socially parallel to humans; they often did not venture beyond their own circle of friends. She hoped by bringing the public together, strong bonds between the citizens would be made. Of coarse, it was not mandatory to attend, but she had recorded that an increasing number of goblins came to attend every feast.
Sitting at one of the many rectangular tables that had been crafted from stone and old logs, Makenna ate, conversing away with her friends, her heart lightening with every word. "What I don't get is how you bribed the Trackers to hide them in the woods," she offered, drilling Miggy. The second in command frowned, pushing at his dinner with his fingers. "I traded the lot of them my pine cone collection, after that it was easy enough to have the expedition wait a few miles off when they found out we wanted to surprise you," Makenna sighed, angry and pleased with her comrades planning capabilities. "And the rest of the city? How'd you tell them this was going on without letting it slip to me!" she asked, curiosity eating away at her skull. "Now that, that you'll never know," he said with a wink. Makenna groaned, disappointed.
When the stream of food and drinks began to slow, Makenna sensed it was time for a formal announcement of the expeditions success in returning home. She cleared her throat, standing up to begin. "I hope you've all had your fill," she started, her gaze meeting every pair of small goblins eyes that ranged from hazel to purple. "We feast in celebration of our expedition's return," she reminded them, eyes drifting to the head table where the group she spoke of sat. "May the news they bring confirm our safety and ensure a prosperous future in our new home, let us hope the need for such a departure never arrives again, and may they be cursed for not returning sooner!" she added with a grin. Goblins nodded, murmuring phrases of agreement before letting out one final uniform cheer of "To the expedition!"
Returning to her seat, Makenna listened as conversation burst out once more, spreading across the tables like wildfire. Peering around to the expedition table, she watched as many of their expressions transformed from a relaxed ease, to a taut anxiety. Tobin's suddenly pale face caught her stare worriedly. As he starred back, eyes fallen deep into warning, she could tell something was amiss.