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The middle-aged Elf, hooded and dressed in forest garb, watched the small farm as he had for the past several days, knowing that this was the day when Pran might make his way to Narvi, and if chances were in his favour, the former soldier might be foolish enough to make the trip alone. If so, then he could be waylaid and slain, as he and his companions had planned. But as Pran got himself ready, it appeared that no wagon would be going to Narvi. What was more, there were three . . . no, there were four strangers staying at the farm, two men, and two women.

But what was this? Shading his sharp eyes with a long hand, he took a harder look at the smaller of the two women.

A Pixie! But why was she here, on Pran’s farm, dressed in such strange attire? And who were these strange Humans. One of them was very large, a warrior by the look of him. And the other! A powerful Magi, judging by the arcane device of metal wire and crystal through which he viewed the world.

At once, the hooded Elf was tense with anxiety. Marauding war parties of Goblins had already been dispatched, their supposed purpose to blanket the area so that none would escape. But Goblins hunted and killed almost indiscriminately; he had limited control over them, and there was always a chance that they would turn on him, especially when they were so far away from their austere, mountainous home in the North; isolation in these strange southern climes made them cagey, superstitious, apt to panic and lash out at the least sign of danger.

‘Well, Pran, my old friend,’ he muttered, ‘it seems that we shall have to modify our plans somewhat.’

***

Returning from speaking with his wife, Pran joined Ralph and Doc, who were already mounted, and they set out, Pran setting a brusque pace. Riding abreast as they crossed the fields to the west, they soon struck the trail on the west side of the farm which ran northeast, soon reaching the eaves of the forest, under which lay the road which travelled east-west.

***

‘Damn you!’ the hooded figure muttered under his breath as he watched the three riders pass by his position. Two of the Goblins with him stared at the biggest one of the three riders warily. Though Ralph hadn’t the slightest idea how to use a sword, he rode well, and Pran had chosen for him a horse fit to be a destrier, large, swift, intelligent, and incredibly tough. Fortunately for himself, Pran, and Doc, those watching were daunted.

Thinking quickly, the hooded one thought of surrounding and capturing the women, to gain information. But, being in the company of Goblins, that left no Elf to follow Pran and his companions, to spy on their movements, and inform Prince Cir of what he had learned. Finally, making the only choice available, he said to the Goblin leader, ‘Wait until dusk, when the herds and the field hands are in; then move in, surround all of the dwellings, making certain that none escape, and slay everything that moves, including the livestock. When that is done, you may burn what remains and feast to your hearts’ content, but until then, be sure; let none escape!’

The Goblin leader nodded brusquely, said some quiet, businesslike words to his companions, and they left as a body, disappearing into the forest as though their apparent existence had in truth been nothing more than a subtle movement of foliage, seen out of the corner of one’s eye.

The hooded one took one last look, then went deeper into the forest, where his mount waited, far enough away from the Goblins that it wouldn’t bolt in panic. Heading out of the woods, he eschewed the road, choosing instead to travel cross-country, to make certain that he arrived in Narvi prior to Pran and his intriguing companions.


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The following comments are for "A Pixie For The Taking -chapter 58-"
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