The pair of dwarf brothers bent over some mud in the sparse woods.
“What do you think Smalls?” The taller one asked his brother.
“Goblins,” the shorter answered.
“Of course it’s goblins,” Biggs complained, “But how many? Where did they go? How far away are they?”
“How the devil should I know? I just know they are goblins. I’m not a tracker.”
“Whatever, let’s just keep following then,” Biggs snorted.
The brothers trudged onward, following the fairly obvious tracks left by a raiding party of goblins. The little beasts attacked a farm nearby a day earlier, killed and made off with nearly all the livestock including the family dog, and also badly injured the farmer who attempted to defend his farm against the creatures.
That very night, the farmer’s wife and daughter sought help from townsfolk at the local inn. The family was well known and liked, and the folks were more than willing to help out with supplies and even some replacement livestock. One man, who was a bit of an herbalist, offered some healing poultices and promised to help nurse the farmer back to health. None were willing to go after the goblins, however. Except the dwarf brothers.
When Biggs and Smalls heard that there was a goblin raid nearby, it triggered a deep pain in them that was even strong enough to break them from their nightly drinking and feasting in order to ask questions. You see, the two brothers were separated from their clan long ago as a result of a goblin raid. Typically, goblins were no match for dwarves but the little beasts are treacherous if nothing else and an attack in the deep of the night resulted in the entire party murdered except for the brothers who were two young to effectively contribute to the defense of the trade caravan and were its only survivors. Word of a goblin raid was an opportunity for some redemption, even though most would have had their fill of redemption long before. Many a goblin had already paid the price of that raid years before. When day broke the day after the raid on the farm, the boys were off to find the beasts.
The brothers were well known in that part of the world. They were not adventurers per say, but did in fact do a little bit of fighting for hire and were also very interested in treasure. It was their dream to one day build their own inn. They thought the name “Stumble Inn” was hilarious and they often discussed the nature of the business while traveling about in search of fortune to create it.
Biggs and Smalls were obviously not their real names, but separated from their clan and living mostly amongst humans, they were nick-names that served them well and they enjoyed them, besides. In fact, Biggs was Thorkam and Smalls Thurmyl sons of Thermun from the clan Bladeborne. Like most dwarves, they were brash, proud, stubborn and often quick tempered. Above all, they were loyal to one another and nothing had even come between them, and it wasn’t likely that anything ever would.
Biggs was a little tall for a dwarf and a little lean for one as well. He was quick witted and tended to be the planner of the pair. He had sharp, dark eyes that were constantly scanning and calculating. Biggs also tended to be a little more charismatic than his brother and if negotiations were necessary, he was usually the one to lead them. He carried a greatsword with him and also his bow, which he was fairly proficient with. He wore a chain shirt when expecting combat; armor he bought after far too many wounds to his torso.
Smalls was short, even for a dwarf, and thick but strong as any dwarf or human. In fact, it was uncanny how strong he was and loved to challenge any who doubted to contests of strength. His favorite challenge was definitely wrestling matches and his low center of gravity and strength made it nearly impossible to defeat him. He was not especially patient and instead preferred settling disputes with conflict.
Smalls’ real talent was in his fighting ability. Besides unarmed combat, he was a master of armed battle as well. Biggs loved axes like bears love honey. The bigger the better. His favored axe was his giant double bladed greataxe. It was more than a bit too large for him but he gladly traded the dexterity in wielding it for the intimidation and fear that it generated. But he didn’t just tote around an oversized greataxe. He also carried a pair of battle axes and nearly a dozen hand axes. He was sometimes mistaken for a merchant but none of the weapons were for sale and he was often insulted when someone inquired about them. Smalls was a walking instrument of war.
Near dusk, the brothers came upon a mess of a campsite. Bones were tossed about like twigs on a forest floor. The grass was stained with blood. Bits of flesh were still present on some of the bones and they attracted flies and other insects. Other scavengers had discovered the site and also enjoyed the scraps left over. It smelled a bit sour but it appeared to be more than the remnants of the savage feast that took place prior. It was almost as though the campsite was corrupted or tainted in some way; fouled by an unclean presence.
Smalls spat as he drew a battle ax and held it to his side as if to cut down an enemy that had already left. “Filthy goblins,” he muttered.
“Indeed,” Biggs replied as he scanned the area. “This was their camp last night. It appears they had quite the feast.”
Smalls snorted, “It’s what they do. Take anything they can get their hands on and devour everything in sight.”
“I know. We both do. There’s nothing here for us. It is clear they headed east from here. But let’s not camp by this mess. We have a little daylight left, let’s continue on for a while then camp.”
“Bah!” Smalls exclaimed as he returned his battle axe to his back and stomped past the camp.
In a little while longer the boys came to a clump of trees near a thin creek. Looking about and seeing little but the trees and brush of the surrounding landscape, they decided it was a good place to rest. They quickly set up camp, including a small fire and their bedrolls. It was late spring and there was no need for further shelter with no threat of rain that night.
Once settled in, the boys chewed on some salted meat and sipped from their water skins.
“We should have brought some ale,” Biggs complained.
“Aye,” Smalls agreed. “Water just isn’t the same.” They ate in silence for a while then Smalls added, “I’d gladly give up ale to kill goblins though.”
Biggs laughed, “Oh would you?”
“Obviously,” glared Smalls. More silence followed as each of the boys watched the sun and the glow of their fire took over to provide light.
“How long are we going to do this?” Biggs asked.
“I don’t intend to ever stop.”
“There will always be more goblins.”
Smalls leaped to his feet and snatched up his oversized greataxe. “Of course there will always be more goblins. It’s what they are. Like vermin that plague this land they never stop stealing and killing.” Smalls swung his axe as if he were cutting them down as he spoke and killing his imaginary foes with each swing. He came to rest standing with his axe in two hands over his shoulder and staring at some distant hills remembering a dream of the past.
Biggs could feel his pain. “Do you ever think about going back,” he asked.
Smalls swallowed. “Nah, I couldn’t stand being there again.”
“How do you know? It’s been so long. We were practically kids.”
“Aye, but this life feels right to me. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be part of a clan again. I don’t want the pity. Besides, we’re going to find our fortune and open the Stumble Inn remember?”
“Aye, I remember, brother. And I like that dream myself, but sometimes I think I feel the clan and the hills calling.”
“Well ignore them. I am perfectly content slaying goblins and searching for our fortune. I don’t need anything else.”
“If you say so, brother.”
“Aye, I do. Now forget about it and get some rest. Tomorrow we spill goblin blood,” Smalls declared.
“Sure thing, brother,” Biggs whispered as he rolled over and stared off into the dark dreaming about a life he would never have.
Smalls searched the shadow that remained of the hills in the distance but they were dark to him, like the place in his heart where the hills of his childhood home remained. A home he no longer wanted but one that still forced a single tear to form in his eye.