Turstin remained close to the wizard, bound by a single, thick rope stretching from his belly to the wizards’ back. He stared at the ground, watching his master’s heels as they popped out from beneath the elaborate Andolian robe. Once the wizard had stopped prodding the Greust leader with questionable statements about their current goblin politics, the rest of the ambushing party had calmed down and the only sound Turstin could hear in the forest other than an occasional hoot owl were his own footsteps; everyone else, it seemed, had perfected the fine art of Inaudible Maneuverability.
As he staggered along clumsily, Turstin was terrified by the thought of what may happen in the hours to come, twisting his hands in their binds as he imagined being subjected to unspeakable tortures for the sheer pleasure of his captors. His irritation grew as the goblin behind him continued to prod him hard in the back with its massive mauling club, but Turstin tried his best to ignore it. Besides, nothing really dampened the excitement he felt deep inside at being the assistant to the Great Wizard of the Andolian Draugh! Had he known this, he thought, he would have conversed much differently with the wizard when they sat at the campfire. The members of the Draugh are quite famous, he had heard many times before, always the topic of conversation among eager school boys and in the work yards. The Draugh were renowned for their immense power and involvement in almost all of the major events of recent history. The wizard, above all, maintained an unshakable reputation for his strength and knowledge among the people of the local villages. His shoes and clothes are beautiful, Turstin thought, and it was at this moment when the desire to truly follow this master of magic and wisdom began to grow and glow and swell inside Turstins’ heart.
The wizard suddenly halted, and Turstin nearly ran into him. Looking around, Turstin noticed all the goblins had stopped; the Greust were standing in a half-circle, facing a towering, old oak tree with large, entangled branches hanging down to touch it’s dead leaves that covered the ground. The goblin leader produced a long portion of rope from his side bag and threw the majority of it toward the tree while grasping one end. The rope flew easily over a thick, sturdy branch and the goblin quickly brought the two ends together to tie them. Turstin nearly fainted, envisioning the noose that would suffocate the life out of him, and shuffled with eager steps to position himself behind the wizard. Will he allow this?, Turstin thought, and prayed to whatever god would listen for his master to use some of that famous Andolian thaumaturgy to save them now.
“Are we going to die?” Turstin asked, staring wide-eyed at the wizard.
“I don’t know, actually. I can’t see very much out here, and they certainly are sneaking around a great deal,” the wizard answered nonchalantly, and through a small prestidigitation with his left hand he illuminated the area with golden light.
The Greust leader spun toward the wizard, jingling with charms and keepsakes that hung from his beard and belt. He was furious, swinging his spear around to jab the wizard in the chest. “Put it out, or I’ll have you on a spit,” the goblin grunted, and grimaced from the wizard to Turstin.
“What are we doing here, little one? Is this to be our end?” The wizard looked at Turstin briefly and grinned.
“What? Here?” the goblin chuckled and raised his arm to point toward the tree. “No, you great lummox, I can’t be having my way with you... your destiny is for Kreuch to decide.”
The goblin leader turned away from the prisoners and scuttled toward the tree. Taking the rope in his hand he turned to the wizard and said, “Oh well, I guess you can keep your pretty little lights, doesn’t matter much now anyway.” He got down on his knees at the base of the tree and shoved his fist with one end of the rope into the ground. A sudden jerk yanked the rope out of the leaders’ hand and he fell backward, letting out a small yelp as he rolled onto his behind. The other goblins laughed and the leader chortled, “Ah, gets me every time,” before regaining his stance and turning in a full circle to address the entire company: “Two at a time, now, and don’t forget to tug when you’re through.”
A cracking and tearing sound the likes of which Turstin had never heard in his worst nightmares issued from the base of the great oak. He watched in horror as the trunk split and shifted and lifted from the dirt, exposing a large opening to what appeared to be an infinite blackness, lonelier and more terrifying than the furthest reaches of space.
“Dreth, Yurgun, you first,” the leader grunted as he pointed to the two goblins who had obtained the wizards’ shoulder bag. “Litlur, Grot, you’re next.”
The wizard crossed his arms over his chest and took in a deep breath. He smiled, pursing his lips as he said, “So this is the entrance to Kreuch’s kingdom, huh? I’ll have to remember this.”
“Doubt it,” the goblin answered quickly. “You’d be lucky to live through the night. How else do you think we’ve kept it secret this long?”