Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tuesday Tease - Dance of the Goblins by Jaq D Hawkins

Welcome to the second in the Tuesday Tease feature, today we welcome Jaq Hawkins and she has provided a chapter from her book 'Dance of the Goblins' for us to read, you can then find out more about her and her books after the excert.
 
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Dance of the Goblins
by Jaq D Hawkins

Chapter Eight

Haghuf entered the library to find Count Anton reading a sheet of parchment that had been left out to study further.

‘Humph.’ Haghuf snorted. ‘I might have known you would waste no time finding that.’
‘It was lying out with the ink hardly dry, I couldn’t have missed it,’ replied Anton absently. ‘Where did you get this?’

‘Doesn’t matter.’ Haghuf’s tone held a familiar note of finality that told Anton that he would get no information about the source of the words, at least not at the moment.

‘Where did you get those injuries on your shoulder?’ Anton looked at the marks on Haghuf with concern, speculating that some sort of altercation with other goblins might have caused them. They were about the right size to be goblin tooth-marks and there were a lot of them.

‘That doesn’t matter either,’ Haghuf replied flatly.

Anton had never been one to accept Haghuf’s uninformative moods easily. He speculated that he might have apologised again for taking advantage of the invitation from Leap, yet it would have seemed impolite to refuse at the time. Haghuf would have done the same in his place.

Haghuf had a special talent for gathering information which Anton had long admired. It was one of the things that earned the Deep Dweller the respect of the other goblins. They sought his wisdom in situations of crisis because he usually had answers, not because of any official position.

Anton had earned a similar respect in the human world, yet his position as a leader among them held a certain responsibility to obtain solutions to problems, even when he had none. There were times when he envied Haghuf the freedom the goblin society allowed him.

Count Anton tried coaxing a more talkative mood out of his friend by ignoring Haghuf’s grumpiness and using his natural charm. The goblin often responded well to the smooth tone of voice that Anton used for diplomatic conversations, even though he knew the trick.

‘I have been receiving frequent messages from the people of Nodgnirraf, usually about trivial matters.’ Anton watched as the goblin pretended to take an interest in an old leather book as if he hadn’t heard. The game was a familiar one and Anton continued, unabashed.

‘Some of them have complained that ground dwelling rodents have been digging in and taking vegetables.’ Anton stole a glance at Haghuf, just catching the hint of a smile that played at the corner of the goblin’s mouth. Anton held the parchment up and read the first few lines of the prophecy aloud.

‘The time is upon us when much that has been hidden will be revealed and human and goblin together will decide the fate of both races. You know more than any how closely entwined they are and how delicate the balance lies between them when all of the truth shall be known.’ Anton’s penetrating eyes caught Haghuf’s like those of a snake about to swallow its prey.

‘So, these words were spoken to you by someone with the gift of prophecy?’

Haghuf didn’t answer. He turned his back to Anton and allowed him to read on.

‘If ignorance is chosen, all will die. The races will pass from the earth and the lands will be ruled only by the small creatures that survive until another Turning shall bring renewed evolution for sentient species.’ Anton stopped a moment. ‘Haghuf, where do you get parchment?’

‘We make it of course,’ was the quick answer. ‘Surely the fate of the planet hardly depends on our use of simple crafts.’

‘Parchment making is a difficult skill and the flax it is made from is hardly going to grow underground.’ When he didn’t receive an answer, Anton pressed on. His words became more impassioned as he spoke. ‘The goblins could hardly dig enough vegetables from the gardens of Nodgnirraf to feed them regularly at every Storytelling, or whenever else you eat. Haghuf, why do you keep me in the dark about such ordinary things?’

‘Would you have me tell a human, even you, every detail of how my people survive?’ Haghuf turned now, meeting Anton’s vehemence with his own. ‘I tell you of our history and you ask for information about our food supplies. Is it so important to know the lives of goblin gardeners or where the tunnels lead to places where we can grow food unmolested by humans? You know there was a time when the Deep Dwellers had little more than rats, underground creatures and mushrooms to eat. Can you guess how my ancestors learned which mushrooms caused hallucinations or death? We are a survivor species. We do not continue that survival by giving every detail of such information to the species that hunts and kills us. Not even to you, Anton.’ Haghuf stopped a moment and took a deep breath, his fingers unconsciously fingering the purple-blue stone amulet that he wore round his neck. Then he repeated, ‘Not even to you.’

He took a few steps away from the Count as he formulated the words that would ask much, while giving away as little as possible.

‘I had Leap bring you to the library because I wanted you to read this.’ Haghuf indicated the parchment in Anton’s hand. ‘It doesn’t matter where it comes from or what we eat, ignorance of much more important things threatens to destroy both our species. I need your help, Anton.’

‘My questions are not intellectual curiosity this time, Haghuf.’ Anton spoke more calmly now. He could see Haghuf’s position and how such probing questions would appear to the naturally defensive goblin. ‘We have a problem, and it concerns all of this.’ He waved the parchment to indicate that the prophecy had some connection to what he had to say.

‘When I used your potion to drug those men, one of them had already left the camp. I think you passed him on the way to summon me.’ Haghuf listened attentively to Anton’s words. The memory of the human ranting about demons came back to him, although he had completely forgotten about it until now.

‘On his own, the man would probably be ignored and assumed a madman, but there are humans south of the river who see demons in every shadow. They have a Temple of their own in Tebmal. They have always believed in a more extreme version of the religion of the common people. They believe that the world is destined to have a war between their sterile god and an adversary god of the demons. Usually they stay within their own communities and stir themselves up with a form of Storytelling that speaks of battles and glory far in the future, when their god and his angels will defeat the adversary and all the demons. Like so many belief systems used to control the masses in the past, this religion is based entirely on faith and so they need no evidence to back it up. They teach it to their children and propagate a mass delusion that keeps them in a constant state of battle preparation.’
The Count paced a few steps before continuing.

‘Perhaps we should have eradicated the beliefs centuries ago, but one of the defences the originators put into the religion is the belief that they will be persecuted. To attempt to dispose of this religion in any way would look as though their predictions were true and it would cause rebellion. The magicians have been better able to exist alongside these people by ignoring their religion and allowing them to believe that we are somehow in accordance with them.’

Anton turned, meeting Haghuf’s eyes.

‘Most of the people of Nodgnirraf have written the man off as a drunk and a lunatic, so he has gone to the others across the river. He is telling them that he actually saw the demons... that they came from underground. The Southerner’s belief is that these evil creatures come from a place called Hell, which is underground, and that they will come from the deep places to eat their children.’

‘Humph,’ snorted Haghuf. ‘Maybe that isn’t such a bad idea.’

Anton’s mouth twitched, but he controlled the urge to laugh.

‘I’m being serious, Haghuf, one of the other men had dreams about your people. Half memories that escaped the potion. He is all but ready to believe the stories himself and only stays quiet because the others would think him mad as well. Don’t you see, Haghuf? They see your people as those demons, because of your pointed ears and other features. If a single goblin is seen above ground, it will be evidence that it isn’t all tales. There would be panic... and war. We only escaped it the other day because the man was drunk and lost his way. He was trying to find his way to the river, to go for help. By the time he found it, it was dark and he came to me instead.

‘I meant to do something about him, but with so many other men in my castle and my encounter with Talla, I forgot. I left him unconscious, passed out on the very grounds of my castle. I’ve been told that he went back to the clan after that, but when they rejected his story and told him they had all been cavorting at my castle instead, he disappeared. I heard later that he was stirring up the fanatics across the river.’

Haghuf looked thoughtful for a moment, then reached for the parchment in Anton’s hand.
He read carefully, ‘If the knowledge comes too early, only one species will die, and if too late, perhaps both will perish… one will come between the worlds to convey the secrets wisely… Yet hope remains so long as the one moves with the tides and rhythms that he has learned to know… and it is in trusting to chaos, that the world may be saved.’ Haghuf paused a moment.

‘We must trust our instincts, and move as the tide of events takes us,’ Anton said, his eyes still on the parchment in Haghuf’s hands. Then he looked up, his old amused smirk back in place.
Haghuf met his eyes. The bond between them remained unchanged by the argument. His own usual humour was returning.

‘I would very much like for you to tell me that story of your ancestors sometime, the one that made your eyes glint at the Storytelling.’ Haghuf walked to a shelf, placing the parchment carefully above a row of books. An unmistakable feeling of rhythm had begun to grow in the room. Both Haghuf and Anton were becoming aware of the spell of The Dance. The Storytelling would have finished and the music had begun. ‘I will tell others of the danger that grows on the surface. Anton, do you know where your loyalties lie?’

Anton felt the heartbeat of life from the planet and all that existed on it, hypnotic in its steady beat. It drew him into itself and he had no wish to resist.

‘I abhor stupidity of any kind.’ The Count made a sour face as he answered. ‘Ignorance is a choice. This is why I keep apart from the fools of my species.’

‘You may have to make difficult choices before another season passes.’ Anton read a warning in Haghuf’s words. The goblin often predicted trends of things to come, but Anton knew that there was no use in trying to squeeze details from the obstinate goblin. He also knew from experience that Haghuf would be unable to define his impressions any more clearly. The Dance called to them both. Whatever the future had in store, the primal force that called to them now was at the essence of both of their beings.

They exited the library, saying nothing more of the affairs that threatened this peace of perfect balance and harmony. They joined the others in the main cavern to partake in The Dance. Anton occasionally looked for any sign of Talla, but he could not see her anywhere in the crowd.  It was within the rhythm of The Dance that the first warning came. A subtle disharmony of tension grew somewhere in the south. All who danced were aware of it, but only Haghuf and the Count could guess its cause.

*

In Tebmal, on the surface world among the humans, a very different sort of gathering was taking place. All of the people of the south had been called to a special night meeting in an old, deteriorating building that they only ordinarily used for the Sabbath celebrations, if one could call it celebration. The people sat stiffly on chairs, accustomed to rites of an austere nature where obedience to a higher power was at the centre of their faith. They believed that all suffering, including the discomfort of wooden chairs, was created by their invisible god and happened through divine will. The only thing that was not created by their deity was the demons. Demons were sent to destroy mankind, according to the beliefs of the Southern people. The hideous, green creatures were servants of the adversary, who was evil by nature and took pleasure in torment and destruction.

The Southerner cult was shunned even by other humans, despite the fact that they believed in a similar religion. The people south of the river held extremist beliefs that any form of pleasure equated with sinful ways, included dancing, music, eating beyond what was needed for survival or making love to their wives for more than procreation. Such amusements constituted demonic ways. The Southerners would not drink beer or indulge in any form of intoxicant. They wore simple clothing without colour which covered their bodies as completely as possible with long cuffed sleeves and high collars, especially the women, as all things of flesh were considered to be temptations to pleasure and the ways of evil.

Count Anton had long been aware of the cult, but normally left them to themselves and their delusions of rewards in the afterlife as payment for their austerity on earth. He found it facetious that they thought that pleasures considered sinful in earthly life would suddenly be allowed in the afterlife by the sort of god who would demand such denial of all that gave life meaning. He also knew the history of this cult which had grown from the ashes of the last Turning. There had been similar cults which had existed before it. The mind-control techniques of religion had been studied by others of his own kind in the previous age, but too few were aware of them now to prevent the rise of man’s greatest enemy to himself.

Brother Paul prepared to address the assembly. As he laced the perfect knot in his tie, he convinced himself that it was not pride that led him to emphasise his own name every time he introduced himself. He was named after their prophet for a purpose. He believed that the reason he was blessed with the name was that he had been chosen by the Divine to lead his people to righteous ways in the Lord. He was convinced that the battle with the Adversary was destined to happen in his lifetime.
He resented the fact that the large temple in the city, named for that same prophet, was run by those who had such limited vision and faith. The Northerners were sinful people, given to vanity and pleasures of the flesh that were not right in the eyes of the Lord. It was because of such people that the Adversary grew strong in the world, always tempting the younger people with time-wasting amusements when they should be studying The Book.

A part of him liked to believe that he was in some way descended from that first Paul, although he knew that such a holy man would never defile himself by touching the filthy flesh of a woman. It was a spiritual inheritance of a sort, one that did not require sin to propagate the line. His teacher had been of that line as well, though he had not been so blessed as to be actually named for the prophet.

Paul believed that today’s meeting would prove his claim to the name, as well as the truth of the beliefs behind all that their faith had required of them for so many centuries. All the history of their people that they needed to know came from The Book. Keeping the faithful in line had been his life’s work. It hadn’t always been easy when the temptations of the flesh constantly distracted the young people. Too often they had asked for some proof of the divine and had to be reminded of the penalties for questioning the faith itself.

As of today, Paul had the proof he needed that demons were walking the earth. The man called Jerrold, from one of the lukewarm northern clans who indulged in all manner of fleshly pleasures, had come to him to witness that the actual demons of Hell had been seen. Not just by himself, but by many of his clan. Unfortunately the others had lost their memory of the experience through drink and carousing at the castle of the decadent Count Anton, or perhaps through some vile demon magic.

Paul frowned at the thought of Count Anton. The man was clearly an unbeliever and indulged in all manner of pleasurable pursuits at his whim, yet he held the respect of the people, even the faithful, who went to him at the slightest hint of crisis when they should be praying to God to deliver them. Paul could not help but believe that the hereditary position that the Count held might better have gone to someone like himself, who could lead the people to righteousness and who could show a stronger presence to the leaders of other settlements, rather than coming into their land to indulge in all manner of sin at the legendary parties at the Count’s castle.

Paul believed that foreigners from afar would come to invade someday and that the people should be battle ready. Weapons were scarce on the Southern side of the river, and all of Paul’s missives to Count Anton to arm the people in readiness had met only with flippant responses that showed no concern whatsoever for either their physical or spiritual protection. The man had even had the audacity to invite Paul to one of his parties, an obvious attempt to lead him away from his righteous and sober path.

The warm-up speaker was just finishing. Brother Harrison had a knack for getting the faithful excited about salvation in a way that worked well with Paul’s technique for putting the fear of the Lord into the flock. The crowd was shouting praises in one moment and then became totally silent in the next as Brother Harrison made the introduction.

‘Brothers and sisters, we all glory in the love of the Lord, and his prophecy tells us that we will be called to Him to engage in battle with the Adversary. Now I want you to listen carefully to the words of our leader, named for the prophet Paul who warned us of the end times coming when the demons would come from the earth, bringing fire and brimstone to destroy the faithful. That’s you and me brothers and sisters. May I introduce the man who will lead us into battle with our enemies and into the glory of the Lord, Brother Paul!’

There was no applause, but only tense, rapt attention as the congregation waited patiently for their leader to walk slowly onto the stage. His eyes looked about the room, hard and cold, one might even say accusing. If there were any among them that did not hang on every word of Brother Paul, they would not dare to let it show under that piercing gaze. The tension mounted, until at last the voice boomed out with the authority of one who had been commissioned by God personally to lead them all to salvation.

‘We are all sinners!’

All sat in silence, awaiting the next missive.

‘But we can be saved.’

The unsettling eyes traversed the room again, seeking out any hidden scrap of sin in the hearts of each individual there. He had them entranced, their full attention focused on his every word.
‘My brothers and sisters, we, the faithful, have always known the truth of the prophecies. We have kept ourselves free of the sinful behaviour that is not pleasing to the Lord, unlike our Northern neighbours across the river.’

Another pause, for dramatic effect, then he continued, pointing an accusatory finger in the general direction of the river.

‘Now the Northern sinners are paying the price for their folly, as the demons rise from the ground to fulfil the fortellings of the prophet Paul, as we have always known would happen in our lifetimes! My brothers and sisters, I tell you now that Brother Jerrold has come to join us today,’ he slowed his speech, using the technique of speaking one word per heartbeat to emphasise his words, ‘and he has seen the demons with his own eyes!’

Gasps came from the audience, their belief in the words of Brother Paul was absolute. An undercurrent of fear began to grow as Paul paused again to let the weight of his words sink in, and then choosing just the right moment, he captured their attention once again.

‘But you, my brothers and sisters, know that the prophecy says that you will all be saved, and that we will be victorious in the battle to come.’ The cold eyes darted here and there, ascertaining that the faces of the faithful showed the reflection of the renewed hope that he bestowed upon them. ‘And here, to testify in person, is Brother Jerrold who has done battle with the demons himself, and lived to tell about it. He is here to bring this message to all of you, the faithful, that we can win. We will win. And the Lord will smile on the chosen.’

He gestured to Jerrold to come forward, noting the looks of excitement on the faces of his flock. This would be the one difficult moment, as the man Jerrold was a drunkard and varied in coherence. Paul had done everything in his power to keep the man well away from drink and believed that he had been successful as such vile brews were not so readily available south of the river as they were in the north, but Jerrold’s hands shook and his eyes were dull. He appeared to be possessed by demons himself. Paul frowned as he remembered that Jerrold had actually curled up on the floor and begged for just one drink that very morning. The preacher had a fleeting moment of doubt as to whether the drunkard could perform as required. Paul’s ability to control the man was limited, although he was sure that a little time among his flock would lead him to compliance. For the moment, Paul decided that the shaking man would benefit from some more direct guidance.

‘Brother Jerrold,’ boomed the voice of Brother Paul as he took the man’s elbow and guided him up onto the stage. ‘Tell us, in your own words, how you encountered the demons face to face!’

The man looked frightened, but it added to the image that Paul wanted to portray of a man shaken by a very real ordeal from which he had survived, saved by their deity so that he could tell others. Jerrold stuttered a little at first as he spoke.

‘W-we were l-looking for a missing man and we found him on a hillside, bewitched by some foul magic, and they were dragging him along like they were taking him somewhere. Then when they saw us they ran away, back into the ground.’

Somehow the story had grown in Jerrold’s mind so that the one demon that had actually been seen had become many. Paul’s coaxing when Jerrold had first related the story seemed to have clarified such details.

‘Back into the ground!’ Boomed the voice of Paul, repeating the words for emphasis. ‘And you and some other men chased them right back to Hell from whence they came!’

Paul thought it best to finish the story for Jerrold, as the nerve-wracked man was shaking more violently and spoke too weakly to stir the flock to action as Paul intended, yet the preacher had one more question to ask Jerrold, hoping that he would repeat the same answer that he had given to Paul in their private discussion.

‘Tell us, Brother Jerrold, what did these demons look like?’

Again Jerrold’s eyes darted from face to face, expecting disbelief as he recounted the same description which had earned him only ridicule from his own clan. He spoke slowly, unsurely.

‘They were green, sort of a glowing dark green, and they had pointed ears. They had big yellow eyes that reflected the light, slanted like cats eyes that looked right through you. And they had a woman held captive…’

This was better than anything Paul could have anticipated, that Jerrold would mention the woman just at that moment. He had recounted the entire story to Paul earlier, but there had been no way to control the order that the facts would come out as Jerrold babbled his experience.  Paul immediately grasped the best opportunity he would ever get to exploit the episode.

‘A woman!’ boomed Paul’s voice. ‘One of our own, held captive by foul demons! I tell you, brothers and sisters, we have a moral duty to dig these vile creatures out of their fiery haven and to release all human prisoners that they may be holding! How many daughters of men have gone missing among us? I call on each and every man among you to take to the boats with me this night, and set up a camp where Brother Jerrold saw the demons. At dawn we will dig them out of their loathsome refuge and reclaim our own children!’

Shouts of approval followed this impassioned speech. The men began to organise into a vehement mob. Paul felt both satisfied and a little guilty for bringing the missing girls into it. He knew as well as many fathers among them that several girls in recent years had run away, crossing the river on their own to escape the marriages that their fathers had arranged on their behalf. They had been sinners, women who were weak and craved the pleasures of the flesh that the northern girls enjoyed rather than being grateful for the righteous husbands that their fathers had chosen for them.

Some of the mothers tried to excuse the wayward girls because of their youth, as marriages were arranged as a girl entered puberty. The unpredictability of girls was part of the reason that it was customary to marry them to mature men who could teach them to be obedient and useful wives. Most of those who had run away had never been heard from again. Some were presumed dead from drowning during the river crossing. Their mothers were forbidden to cry for them, or even to speak of them within hearing of their husbands. They were given up for dead, regardless. The men believed that the girls deserved whatever torment came to them in the end for their sinful ways.

The Southerners were sparked by the thought of recovering their lost daughters. Paul had whipped them up into a fervour for a holy war. The men, led by Brother Paul, gathered all the weapons and digging equipment they could find and took to the boats. The women were left to prepare medical supplies and food for their victorious return.

*

It would not have been possible for a human to discern night or day in the darkness of the deep places, but Talla recognised the moon tides of the night. She also knew that it must be night on the surface because Count Anton would have visited by day and had been gone now for some time. Goblins did not count hours or days, or even years, but they possessed the natural sense of the rhythms of light and dark that all creatures who lived close to the earth relied on for survival.

Talla had slept, but only lightly as the rhythm of The Dance had invaded her solitude.  She had chosen not to join the others in the ritual this time. The Dance invariably followed Storytelling and she was usually among the first to give herself over to the pulsing sensations of the earth which would be joined by the musicians and naturally flowed into The Dance, but there was no compulsion to join in and Talla wished pore over her thoughts alone.

She had been acutely aware of the primal rhythms as she lay resting, entertaining fanciful thoughts. Many of these involved the human, Count Anton goblin friend rescuer.

A lifetime of attending the Storytelling had provided much information about the movements of humans, along with the history of her own people. Goblin lives were long and Talla had attended the lessons of various sorts with interest, even fanciful stories which served no other purpose than entertainment, yet often held wisdom in allegory. She had told many stories of her own and had thoroughly enjoyed relating her adventures on the surface and the gallant rescue by Count Anton. The goblins would have known that the Count’s rescue effort had probably saved the drunken human’s life, but the intent remained unchanged. Anton himself had seen only the maiden in distress and had obviously not considered the sharp teeth and claws that a goblin, even a small female goblin, would use to defend itself. Still, the rescue had made a better story and she had allowed his interference on her behalf, partially because the romanticism of it had appealed to her.

Then suddenly he had appeared in the Storytelling cavern as she was telling the story again. She had travelled to several goblin grottoes and had joined their Storytellings to spread Count Anton’s reputation as far as possible. She had only just returned to her home grotto and the Storytelling that had just finished had been the first opportunity to regale her own tribe with her exploits and the gallantry of the human Count, then as she told her story she had caught his scent. When Leap had appeared with the Count at his heels as she was speaking, she could not resist the urge to tease the human with an exaggerated portrayal of the fair goblin maiden who saw beauty in the face of her human rescuer. She wondered, was her description exaggerated? She did find beauty in his features. It was the image of him in her mind as she lay feeling the pulses of nature calling to the deeper part of herself where all sensation arose that drew her to the decision to visit him that night.

Procuring the same human dress and dark cloak that had protected her so well before, she made her way upwards, to the between levels where she would be able to confirm the changing of light and darkness to her satisfaction. She told no one of her plan. She could feel the disturbance that the others had felt in The Dance and knew the advice that would be forthcoming. There was something afoot... the Wise Ones would encourage all of her people to stay underground and out of sight. Talla sensed that the discordance was far to the south. She, more than most goblins, could predict that no harm would come of this single excursion. She was, after all, of the direct blood line of prophesiers. Sometimes, like when she had allowed herself to be carried away by the humans, she simply knew that the end would turn out alright. She trusted entirely to the rhythms of natural chaos.

Talla followed the easy paths of the between levels, hoping that the timing would be right. She met few other goblins, as even Betweeners tended to go to the deeper places once The Dance had started. Those she did meet minded their own business as was the way of goblins. They were very unlike the humans she had encountered who seemed to think that it was their task to interfere with her movements. She resolved that she would watch carefully for the sentries this time.

Talla walked for a very long time, running part of the way as was the habit of goblins. Eventually she came to the now familiar entrance at Lirrewot. She passed a couple of goblins playing a game with stones as she made her way to the opening. The sentry goblins seemed a little familiar, though she did not know them well. She nodded as she passed them and they returned the polite greeting without interrupting their game.

As she looked out of the opening to the surface world, she reached out with her senses to determine if any humans were about. Her experience with the intoxicated man before had impressed her of the very real dangers that she risked by coming to their world. She listened intently and thought she could just hear a scrap of conversation distantly, but another sound drew her attention. Splashing, coming from the river, but not a natural splashing as of the Kol’ksu playing in the moonlight. This was a rhythmic splashing that spoke to Talla’s senses of disturbance, the disturbance in The Dance that the goblins had all sensed.

Talla crept from her hiding place to a high vantage point, grateful for the darkness of a moonless night, and focused her eyes on the source of the sound. There were boats on the river... boats filled with men coming from the southern side of the human settlement. Talla knew about boats from her mother’s people. She also knew that there had been a time before the last Turning when the river had been crossed by bridges which afforded easy access from one side to the other. She was grateful now that Haghuf had kept the books that told of their construction secret. The boats moved slowly, powered only by men rowing. It would be a while before they could reach the shore  time enough for goblin runners to spread the word.

She turned and ran back to the two goblins whom she had passed earlier. She told them of the men coming across the water and the connection to the disturbance in The Dance that she felt so strongly. Knowing her by her white hair and eyes, they reacted quickly without further question. She might have been amused if she had known that this far from Krapneerg she was sometimes referred to as ‘child of the prophesier’. Those she knew well always treated her as one of themselves, yet they were always reminded by her colouring and features that she was of the Kol’ksu.

Talla returned to the opening, reaching out again to sense any change. In the depths behind her, she could just hear the blowing of a goblin battle horn. Somewhere The Dance continued, the pulses of the earth thrumming the rhythm that matched her own heartbeat and warmed her blood. She felt no panic. The boats would still take some time to cross and humans were known to always attack at dawn. They would be tracked, although it was easy to guess that they would go straight to Nodgnirraf. There was time yet, Talla convinced herself, for her reason for coming to the surface. Besides, Count Anton would wish to be told of this. First, the calling of the life forces must be satisfied. Then the morning would see her safely underground.

Talla located the position of the castle guards again and this time ascertained that there were no other humans about. Then, after following the safer paths she had found before, the night’s darkness saw a solitary cloaked and hooded figure climb directly over the outer wall of the castle. After a quick sniff to confirm that the courtyard was empty of humans, Talla climbed head first down the other side, sprang off the wall near the bottom, and ran towards the Tower. She leapt up again onto the wall of the Tower and climbed quickly. She easily found the window again. Memory for the shape of a place was strong in those who lived underground.

She climbed inside silently, still clinging to the walls to avoid knocking over any items that might be near the window. Then she stopped for a moment to look and listen. Talla had seen clearly that there was a figure sleeping in the bed as she came through the window, now she listened closely for his breaths. They were deep and even, those of a person deep in sleep. She moved carefully around the walls until she found a place to climb down without dislodging any paintings. Then she walked silently over to the bed and looked more closely.

The sleeping figure was indeed Count Anton, deep in an exhausted sleep after his revelries at The Dance. Talla was both pleased and confused that he had returned home before the sun could rise. She would have expected him to have been chosen and to have spent the night in pleasure with a fertile female, though Haghuf might have prevented the females from approaching the human, to limit his experience of the goblin rituals.

The coverlet was pulled partially over Anton’s face, but enough of his features were visible that there was no doubt of his identity. His black curls were spread carelessly across the pillow and over his bare white shoulder. The long black eyelashes fell across his fair cheeks like those of a sleeping child, making him look young in the relaxation of sleep, almost like a boy. Some faint freckles that Talla had not noticed before added to the illusion. She nearly giggled as she noticed them.

The fine beauty of his features, at rest now rather than animated with his usual air of lively humour, drew her to him with an instinct that she knew had lain dormant in her kind for many long seasons of the earth. Her dress and cloak fell to the floor, unregarded, then she carefully pulled the coverlet from Anton’s sleeping form. He slept naked, which was no shock to Talla as her own people took little notice of nudity in general. It would have been of some convenience except that the change in temperature as she removed the warm coverlet began to make him stir.

There was no time to lose. Talla leapt on top of him, pushing Anton onto his back a bit roughly, and quickly brushed the hair from his left shoulder. She bent down and bit just hard enough to draw a little blood. Then she settled back on her haunches, satisfied, and waited for the venom to do its work.

About Jaq D Hawkins

Jaq D Hawkins is a published writer with 10 books in publication in the Mind, Body, Spirit genre published by Capall Bann Publishing, as well as four Fantasy novels in print and E-book; The Wake of the Dragon, Dance of the Goblins, Demoniac Dance, and, Power of the Dance, all published by Paganarchy Press.

Information on all titles can be found through her website at http://www.jaqdhawkins.co.uk
Samples from various projects occasionally appear on her blog at http://indiewritenet.com/jaqdhawkins/

Amazon page http://www.amazon.com/Jaq-D.-Hawkins/e/B0034P4BFI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Books by Jaq D Hawkins on Amazon:

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