Waxley the Bold Ch. 01

byslyc_willie©

"Son," she said. "Take this. It is engraved with the symbol of Haladine, the Protector. May it protect you."

Waxley was touched, his hard-set features softening. "Ma, you've worn that ring all your life. I can't--"

"Take it," she insisted, pushing the tiny steel circlet into Waxley's palm. "For me."

Waxley nodded. "I'll bring it back," he vowed.

She nodded, then huddled against her husband, the tears finally coming. Waxley's father stared at his son, a strange expression on his haggard old face. It was as if he was looking upon his son with new eyes, seeing within Waxley Paddins something he had never seen before.

Suddenly, Marilee was at her brother's side, tugging on the scabbard of his shortsword. Waxley looked down into his sister's innocent face.

"Are you gonna kill more goblins?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said honestly.

Her face wrinkled in childish conviction. "Well, if you do, you tell them one of them bolts is from me!"

Waxley smiled in spite of himself, patted Marilee on the head. "I'll do that," he said.

"Company!" came a commanding voice, that of the Lieutenant, a barrel-shaped Warrow named Alderlin. "Move out!"

"I've got to go," said Waxley, looking to his father.

Father Paddins gave his son a meaningful look. "Come back," he said.

Waxley nodded, swallowing nervously. Then he turned and jogged to join up with the constables. From the corner of his eye, Waxley saw his friends Brandy and Calo, standing amidst the crowd, giving him forlorn, though impressed, looks. Waxley nodded back, marveling for a moment how he had suddenly been transformed from one of the village trouble-makers into one of its guardians. Life, he decided suddenly, was nothing if not unpredictable.

The village, as a whole, watched the band of brave constables, and one unlikely hero, as they headed through the gate and toward Bogarty Wood. There were shouts of encouragement, calls to bring back goblin teeth and other trophies. Feeling a strange anxiety mingled with excitement within him, Waxley headed to the front, where he was to take his place beside Alderlin. Despite the grim circumstances, he could not suppress the excited grin that spread across his face.

*

"Aye, goblins were slain here," said Alderlin, squatting on the ground at the edge of the low stone wall behind which Waxley had hidden the night before. The bodies had been removed -- ostensibly by the dead goblins' comrades -- yet bloodstains still marked the earth, especially where the hobgoblin had fallen. Its pierced artery had gushed out the majority of his life's blood, which formed a large, dark puddle on the ground upon which flies buzzed.

"Fine work," he said, nodding to Waxley. Some of the other constables in the eight-Warrow squad echoed the sentiment.

"What now, then?" asked Waxley.

Alderlin, still crouching, stared across the ground. Like Riley, he was a trained hunter, whose eyes spotted details others would miss. "Four more came," he said. "Then later, four more. They took the bodies, headed north-west."

"Toward the ruins," commented Waxley.

Alderlin nodded. "'Twould seem so, Paddins," he said. "Mayhap that is their camp."

"How many goblins would there be, lieutenant?" asked one of the constables, nervously tapping his fingers on the stock of his crossbow.

"'Twould be a small band, I'd wager. But large enough to pose us a threat." Alderlin sighed, thinking. "I'd guess thirty goblins or so, plus a handful of hobgoblin lieutenants. And, of course, this 'master' they spoke of."

Nervous murmurs circulated through the constables.

"Quiet, lot!" barked Alderlin. He nudged his chin toward one in particular. "Dortmer!"

"Yes, lieutenant!"

"Uncoil that net of yours. We'll lay a trap for the goblins, see if we can catch some of them unawares."

Excitedly, Dortmer did as he was commanded, unwrapping the cumbersome bundle that was looped around his torso. Directed by Alderlin, the Warrow and two others set about their task with near-dwarven efficiency, laying the net upon the ground and bending saplings to which the ropes would be lashed. Two others followed the lieutenant's orders and applied the contents of two waterskins, converted to hold a thick, slippery liquid as viscous as molasses, to the slope just before the trap. As they worked, Waxley stood by Alderlin's side.

"Why make the trap now?" he asked. "Don't goblins only patrol at night?"

"'Tis a common misperception, lad," said Alderlin, arms folded above his thick midriff. "Because goblins see well at night, the belief is that they only prowl when Balder's light has set. But I know goblins, lad. They are as thick during the day as they are at night. And in daylight, we have the advantage, not they."

Waxley listened intently, nodded at the lieutenant's words. "But will they come this way again?"

Alderlin grinned. "Goblin's ain't bright, lad," he said knowingly. "They'll come back this way. It's part of their patrol. And judging by the absence of fresh tracks in the past few hours, I'd say they've yet to make their rounds. We'll wait in hiding, snipe a few of them to lure one or two into the trap. Then we'll take the prisoners back to Captain Wills, let him have his way."

Waxley grinned. "Sounds like you've got it all planned out," he said.

Lieutenant Alderlin snickered. "Aye, that I do, lad. That I do."

***

Sharp Warrow ears heard the cautious footfalls of poorly-shod feet through the underbrush, and silent signals sent through the constables had them all alert and ready. Dortmer's net had been spread across the path of the stone-walled trail, covered with dead leaves. The bent saplings that would gather the net, once sprung, were shrouded by the boughs and trunks of stately oaks. The Warrows had concealed themselves at angles on either side of the trail, so that when they fired, they would catch goblins in a crossfire without endangering themselves.

Waxley had been assigned as spotter, and he was settled high in a tree, some fifteen feet above ground. His dark clothing blended well with the coffee-colored leaves of a broad ironwood oak, and only if one knew exactly where to look would they be able to spy him.

So naturally, it was Waxley who first saw the goblins. There were eight of them, clad in ochre- and moss green-colored leathers, shortbows at the ready, arrows already knocked. Leading them was another massive hobgoblin. It looked more frightening, more impressive in the daylight. A veritable giant among the goblins, it carried a great, curved sword that was easily longer than a Warrow was tall, with a blade sturdy enough to chop the stoutest halfling in two.

Waxley gave the pre-arranged signal -- two acorns dropped to the ground, followed by two more -- and raised his crossbow. He sighted the hobgoblin from a distance of a hundred Warrow paces, but as he had been instructed, did not fire. He was to wait until the goblins were close enough, so that the confusion generated by Waxley's first shot would drive the goblins into the trap.

All I have to do is not miss, he thought nervously, trying to control his breathing. He squinted, following the slow-moving hobgoblin over the bridge of Riley's crossbow. Sweat beaded on his brow, born more from his anxiety than the humidity that made his leathers cling to his body. He was anxious; anxious to get this mess over with, anxious to see goblin blood spilt in the name of Crawley's Crossing. He had never been what he considered a bloodthirsty Warrow, but Waxley felt an intimate sense of insult at the affront these goblins had made by their very presence so close to his village.

They will curse the day their 'master' sent them here, he vowed silently.

Sixty Warrow paces from the trail where Dortmer's net had been laid, the hobgoblin leader suddenly stopped, silently raising his hand. Waxley caught his breath, raised his head from above the bow of his weapon, eyes wide with anxiety. The goblins spread out into a practiced semi-circle, fanning the aim of their bows in an arc before them.

Do they know we're here? Waxley thought anxiously. Tentatively, he palmed three acorns in his hand, ready to drop them to the ground, the signal that would alert the others that the goblins were aware of them. For several long seconds, Waxley's hand hovered above the ground, ready to release the signal. But then the hobgoblin leader grunted, gibbered something Waxley could not make out. The goblins returned to their marching order, and the patrol once again advanced.

Quickly, Waxley shoved the acorns back into his belt pouch, then sighted as before upon the hobgoblin leader. His breathing quickened as the patrol came closer. Fifty, then forty, then finally, thirty Warrow paces.

Waxley blinked, took a deep, silent breath, and held it. Close enough now that he could almost count the wiry hairs upon the hobgoblin's head, he aimed for the brute's heart . . . And squeezed the lever.

The dull twang of the crossbow sounded in the forest just before the bolt impacted in the leader's chest. The hobgoblin emitted a painful bellow as he toppled backward, but Waxley's aim had not been as exact as he wished it to be; the hobgoblin still lived, although it thrashed painfully upon the ground, grievously wounded.

At that moment, a pair of constables, further down the trail behind Waxley's tree, suddenly jumped up from their hiding places, calling to and goading the goblins. Momentarily confused, the goblins reacted only with anger and gibberish, yelling back at the two Warrows. Then, en masse as had been hoped, the goblins charged.

The trap was sprung; believing the two Warrows on the ground to have been the ones who wounded their patrol leader, the goblins rushed after them, oblivious to the true sniper who was concealed above. Waxley pivoted in his tree, reloading Riley's crossbow as quickly as he could as the goblins passed beneath his perch. They howled with battle-lust, some loosing arrows, others waving jagged and dented swords. The two Warrow decoys ran away from the border of the net, then ducked beneath the low stone wall on either side, where they joined their fellows.

At twenty Warrow paces from the trap, the constables all emerged from their hiding places amid a flurry of leaves and dead branches. The goblins' faces registered surprise and shock as crossbows twanged and thumped. Eight bolts launched; four goblins fell, pitching back onto the path. Then another staggered forward, its neck pierced by a particularly gruesome wound to the neck by Waxley's aim. Coughing and sputtering blood, it flopped to the ground, dropping its sword.

The forward momentum of the goblins was not easily stopped; confounded by the slippery gel that had been smeared beneath dead leaves and underbrush, the goblins fell to their rumps and slid forward. Two more were picked off by a volley of crossbow bolts, and were dead before they came to the net. The remaining two tumbled forward, directly onto the concealed webwork of ropes across the path. With a sharp snap and a rush of branches and leaves, the net wrapped around them and the two corpses of their fellows, ensnaring them all and hoisting them into the air.

The Warrows leapt to their feet, howling in victory. They encircled the net, chiding the goblins, insulting them in their own tongue. Barely able to move, let alone cut their way out, the goblins snarled, spat, yelled angrily.

"Aye, that's it," shouted one of the constables, dancing before the hanging net. "Struggle all you like, you're not getting out any time soon."

But as the constable hooted in laughter, he did not see the stumbling form of the angry hobgoblin come up from behind, blood trickling through thick, pale lips, slashing down with his massive blade. The constable's haughty tirade was stopped suddenly, his skull cleaved in two by the heavy blade.

Shouts and gasps erupted from the Warrows as they scrambled to bring their crossbows to bear. But before any could react, the hobgoblin suddenly shuddered, just as the thumping sound of a crossbow sounded. The hobgoblin staggered, eyes rolling back in his head, the feathered shaft of a quarrel jutting from the top of his skull. The fiend toppled backward, lifeless before he crashed to the ground.

Waxley exhaled deeply as he lowered his spent crossbow. "That was from Marilee," he said grimly.

The forest was suddenly quiet. Stunned eyes watched as Waxley swiftly descended to the ground, a forlorn look upon his face. He settled his guilt-ridden eyes upon the lieutenant.

"I'm sorry," he said, not knowing what else to say.

Alderlin approached the young Warrow, clasped his hand upon Waxley's shoulder. "'Tis the fates who took Milo," he said. "Not you. That is the way of battle. The Norns can be fickle during such times. Fret not, Waxley; when you see Milo again in Godsland, he will hold no grudge against you."

Despite Alderlin's supportive words, Waxley still felt as if he had failed somehow. "I thought the hobgoblin was dead."

Alderlin nodded to the corpse of the giant creature. "'Tis now," he said with a chuckle. "Fine marksmanship, lad. Very fine indeed."

*

Despite the death of one of their own, the constables returned to Crawley's Crossing as victors. Bound by ropes and manacles, the two goblin prisoners snarled and stumbled their way behind the constables' horses, spitting and yelling defiantly in their gibberish tongue. The anxious citizens of the village came out to welcome the victors, and even though the family of Milo Bloom mourned his loss, even they seemed gladdened that the constables had completed their quest.

Captain Wills came out to the village circle to greet the return, and he looked favorably upon the Paddins lad, now called Waxley the Bold by the constables. He nodded with a small smile as he listened to Lieutenant Alderlin's account of the events, then raised his hands to calm the crowd of villagers who chanted the glory of the constables and the swiftly-spreading news of Waxley's part in the goblins' capture.

"Fellow Warrows of Crawley's Crossing," he said in a loud, boisterous voice. "It is rare when we have a true hero in our midst. But it seems Idunn, and Bragi, aye, even Wotan himself, has blessed us. Waxley, come forth."

With a sheepish grin, Waxley stepped toward the captain, who palmed a small device in his hand. Applause surrounded Waxley; for which he felt both grateful and embarrassed.

"Waxley Paddins," said the captain, then grinned. "Or, should I say, Waxley the Bold! It is my honor to present to you the badge of the constabulary of Crawley's Crossing. May you wear it in pride, and may you continue to show the goblins of Bogarty Wood just what it means to endanger the good people of our village."

Applause sprang anew as Waxley accepted the badge. His heart swelling, his face beaming, he held the small leather badge above his head, thanking those who praised him. His eye caught that of his father, who stood away from the crowd, watching. And even upon that disgruntled face, there was a small smile of pride.

"Thank you, Captain Wills," said Waxley. "I won't let you down."

"I should think not. Paddins blood is becoming more and more a symbol of strength in this village, indeed, across all Warrow lands. You do us all proud."

Waxley smiled, pinned the badge to his chest. Applause erupted one last, cacophonous time, hats were thrown in the air, and amongst the crowd, Waxley the Bold found the approving and excited face of Corabell Undertree. He stared at her for a long moment, feeling that now, finally, he was beginning to fulfill his destiny. But at the same time, something troubled his mind; something that made him feel uneasy with all this sudden attention.

*

"Not a wound to tend?" came a soft, feminine voice as Waxley conferred with the other constables in the constabulary office. All faces -- Waxley's, the two constables', and Captain Wills' -- looked up as Corabell Undertree stood in the doorway, clad in a soft white gown, sunflowers in her hair. The setting sun behind her made her golden hair look even more radiant, made the flowers seem as if they had been set about the temples of an alluring dryad.

Waxley stared with unabashed adoration at the honey-haired beauty in the doorway. The room was silent a moment as Waxley and Corabell locked eyes. Then, Captain Wills cleared his throat, hiding a smirk behind his fist.

"Uh, well, I think that does it for the evening," he said. "It's been a hard day, men, a hard and good day. Sun's setting. Who's up for a tankard of ale?"

The two other constables, dumbstruck at Corabell's lovely appearance, did not budge until Captain Wills slapped his hands upon their backs.

"Oh -- right!" exclaimed one of the constables, as if suddenly remembering something. "Ale! Right! Only thing on my mind at the moment! How's by you, Rogley?"

The other constable stammered, eyes drinking in the way Corabell's dress seemed less to conceal her form, and more to accentuate her lush curves. "Uh, well--"

"Great!" exclaimed Captain Wills, ushering the two constables out the door. "I'll buy the first round!" Quickly, he slipped a key into Waxley's hand. "Lock up for me, will you?" he whispered, then winked and was gone.

Waxley did his best to suppress an embarrassed smile. He slapped the constabulary key in his hand. "Ah, sorry 'bout that," he said, looking sheepishly to Corabell.

She stepped closer, eyes boring into Waxley's with undisguised interest. "Do not apologize, my hero," she whispered. She stepped closer until they were less than a pace apart. Waxley was aware of a gentle fragrance surrounding her, something light and airy, yet also arousing.

Waxley laughed softly. "'Hero,'" he repeated. "I'm no hero."

"And that is exactly why you are one," she said, emerald eyes glittering up at him. "As far as I am concerned, there is no finer herren in this village."

Waxley took a deep breath, suddenly uncomfortable. "I didn't do all this to become a hero," he said. "I did it for Riley."

"And he is proud of you," she said sweetly, soft lips moist and inviting. "I know he is."

"Is he?" asked Waxley, brow furrowed. "Did you know, the day he died, he was going to arrest me?"

Corabell smiled demurely. "That doesn't matter," she said, nudging her face closer to his. "The Waxley then is not the same that stands before me now, the Waxley I wish to be my h--"

"It does matter!" exclaimed Waxley, stepping away angrily, startling Corabell. She jerked her head back, staring in innocent, confused surprise.

"I set out to avenge Riley, not obscure him!" cried Waxley. "It's as if, all of a sudden, people have forgotten him, forgotten all he did over twenty years! As if people have forgotten how he died, and what he died for."

"Waxley, darling, you're not making sense," said Corabell.

He stared at her. "Aren't I?" he asked acidly. "Or, perhaps you simply do not understand wherefore I speak. Riley's death brought to light a great threat to this village, a threat that goes beyond goblins and dire badgers. Do you know what we've been doing in here all day? Planning an infiltration of the goblin camp. Goblins! As if that is all we face!"

"What more do we face?" she asked, admonished before Waxley's anger.

"I just told you!" he cried, making her wince. He huffed and turned away, pulling at his hair. "Am I the only one who sees it? There is a . . . a sinister force at work here! A dark, evil master who commands a dire badger and an army of goblins! That is what we should be hunting!"

Corabell stared, wide-eyed, lips quivering. Waxley stepped up to her with a heavy sigh. His features softened. "Corabell, I am sorry. I do not mean to bring this upon you."

"You . . . You're frightening me," she said. "I've never seen you like this before."

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