“You’d better do something quick, Jaron, or they’re gonna kill us.”
Jaron looked away from his friend and back to the gathering crowd of goblins, which were forcing the two humans back against the decrepit stone wall of the abandoned keep. The pair stepped back onto a raised platform, alongside a rotted executioner’s block. How appropriate, Jaron thought.
“The short one’s got some meat on ‘em,” one of the smaller goblins said, his mouth moving up and down in simulated chewing, “but the other one is jus’ skin an’ bone.”
“Bones is the best part,” a bigger goblin said. “Nice ‘n crunchy. An’ you kin suck the marrow right out.” He held out his fingers to grasp a simulated bone, then made a loud sucking noise.
A dozen slime-green faces turned to look at Jaron and his partner Bren, eyeing them like a pack of starving wolves would a wounded deer. The goblins crept closer, jagged knives and axes raised to strike.
“Nice knowin’ ya,” Bren said.
He was shorter than Jaron, and less athletic—a physical distinction that also manifested in their personalities. Bren was not as brave as Jaron, nor as skilled at fighting. Then again, such a comparison suggests that Bren had at least a modicum of fighting ability, which he did not. Bren liked to think he was the brains of the partnership, and Jaron was happy to let the younger man think it. Jaron had been through enough to know not to cast aside aid when it presented itself, regardless of the form it took.
“Well, what do you want me to do about it?” Jaron said, raising his sword defensively.
The two humans were standing above the group of goblins on the raised platform. It was like a stage, the perfect place for the scene of their bloody end. Jaron wracked his brain for an answer; his mind kept settling on the concept of a stage, a show. It would take some trick to get them out of this trouble. A trick. Magic. Stage magicians, misdirection, sleight of hand…It could work.
“Wait!” Jaron yelled. The marching troops froze in step.
“Whaddya waitin’ us for?” the big goblin asked.
“Well…um…” Jaron sought the right words. “Well, you wouldn’t want to just kill the best traveling entertainers in the Southlands, would you? I mean, not without one final show.”
“Entertainers?” the smaller goblin said, spittle launching from his mouth like boulders from a catapult.
“Right, right,” Jaron said. “We are the…the…Amazing Rezzletons!”
“I ain’t never heard of ya!” the big goblin yelled.
“Of course, of course,” Jaron said. Bren stood silently and watched, his mouth hanging open, his eyes open wide in awe of his silver-tongued friend. “We don’t usually come around the goblin villages. You know, the whole not wanting to be eaten thing and all.”
“Yeh, that makes sense,” the smaller goblin said. “So whazzit you do then, Rezzelton?”
“Well…let me show you,” Jaron said forcing a showman’s smile. “I’m going to need a volunteer. You my good man…” he pointed out a small figure in the crowd.
“Goblin,” the goblin corrected. “And I ain’t good. Don’t insult me.”
“Ah, yes, my apologies,” Jaron said. “Would you mind helping me out, my bad goblin?”
“Well, since you apologized…” the goblin said, dragging his short body up onto the platform, his rusty knife clanging against the old wood.
“Break a leg, runt!” the big goblin shouted.
“Um…would you mind leaving your knife with one of your friends there?” Jaron said, a bit sheepishly. “It might get in the way.”
“These ain’t my friends,” the goblin said, but he handed off the knife anyways.
“Right, right. So what is your name then?”
“They call me Slugtongue.”
“Oh, lovely name.”
“I hate it.”
“Right. Right. Well, Mr. Tongue, do you see what I have in my hand?”
Jaron held out a gold coin, directly in the gaze of the small goblin.
“Gold!” Slugtongue screamed, reaching out for the coin.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Jaron shouted, placing a hand out to stop the grabby goblin. “You can have this coin…if…you can find it.”
Using a trick he learned as boy—when he had been forced into thieving in order to survive—Jaron made the coin vanish from sight, slipping it noiselessly into his wide sleeve. He raised the hand in an elaborate performance, feeling the coin drop down into the tuck of his jerkin where the sleeve met the torso. Every green mouth dropped in astonishment.
“Where’d it go?” the big goblin shouted.
“It jus’ disappeared!” Slugtongue exclaimed.
“Is it in my hands?” Jaron asked, revealing his palms to the still open-jawed Slugtongue. “Or in my sleeve?” He pulled open the sleeve opposite the one holding the coin, willing the goblin’s attention to the wrong place.
“No, it ain’t there,” Slugtongue agreed.
“On the ground perhaps?” Jaron said.
The goblin bent over, examining the floorboards of the old executioner’s platform. While he did so, Jaron dropped his arm, returning the coin to his hand.
“Oh? What’s this in your ear?” he said, reaching out and revealing the coin to the crowd.
“Ha! I always said yur head was full of air!” the big goblin said. The crowd cheered. Jaron bowed.
“My gold!” Slugtongue screamed, reaching more violently for the coin.
“Okay, okay,” Jaron said, backing away. “I’ll give it to you, after one more trick.”
One more trick. Jaron was out of tricks. He didn’t know what else he could do. He had so far managed to distract the goblins from their ravenous intentions, but he had no idea where to go from here. His eyes lingered on the executioner’s block.
“Come, stand up on this block here,” Jaron said, guiding the small goblin who grunted as he climbed atop the block.
“Do any of you have a large cloth or blanket of some sort?” Jaron asked the waiting crowd. “Something to cover our Mr. Tongue with?”
After some grumbling and bickering, a brownish goblin emerged from the group, a bloody cape in his hand.
“Got dis off a caravan master,” the long-nosed goblin said, handing Jaron the cape but not letting go. “Da blood is pleasantly fresh, so I wants it back.”
Jaron nodded and tugged the cloth free from the goblin’s grip. Then with an air of showmanship, he draped the cape over Slugtongue, who was still patiently waiting on the block. As the crowd waited in anticipation, Jaron stepped over to Bren.
“Be ready to run,” Jaron said.
“You’ve done well so far,” Bren said reassuringly.
“Yeah, but I’m out of ideas. I say we shank the little guy and make a break for it.”
“I don’t like our chances.”
Jaron looked around. There was a narrow path on the left side of the group of goblins, which ran along the old stone wall. Depending on how fast the goblins reacted, the two humans could have a significant fight to get through and escape. Jaron didn’t like their chances either.
“No, but I don’t see any other way,” Jaron said.
Bren looked him in the eyes for a long moment, then nodded. Jaron swung back around to where Slugtongue was waiting, but his boot slipped on the end of the cape. The cloth yanked tightly, dragging Slugtongue to the floor with a crash. An audible crack echoed off the stone walls. The goblin screamed in pain. Jaron pulled the bloody cape away to reveal to murderous eyes stabbing at him.
“Ahhh!” Slugtongue screamed, “He broke my leg! Bastard broke my leg!”
Jaron stared at the writhing goblin, terror gripping his thoughts. Then he looked out at Slugtongue’s dozen green companions, expecting them to charge the platform in a rage. He couldn’t breathe. For a moment, everything was still, the goblins looking on in confusion, Jaron and Bren frozen in fear.
Then the big goblin slapped his thigh and screamed, “Ha! Broke his leg! Ha! Whatta laugh! Whatta riot!”
The rest of the horde started laughing loudly, some slapping others on the back, some holding their bellies in pain.
“Why’re ya laughin’?” Slugtongue yelled at the others. “You no good snots! It’s not funny!”
“No, it’s hilarious!” the big goblin shouted in reply. “We didn’t know you guys were a comedy troupe. Of course we can’t kill ya now. Somebody pick up the runt.”
Slugtongue glared at Jaron. A pang of guilt rose up in the man as he watched the stupid creature; part of him pitied the poor wretch’s life.
“What’s that in your ear?” Jaron said, twirling the gold coin into his hand. Slugtongue’s eyes opened wide, his growl transforming into a bright, childish smile.
“We had a promise, right?” Jaron said, handing over the coin.
The other goblins came and lifted up the broken source of their amusement, raising the small goblin into the air like a hero. The big goblin slapped Jaron hard on the rump, still laughing hysterically. The mob stomped out of the ruins and into the valley beyond.
“You never cease to amaze me, friend,” Bren said.
“Sometimes I even amaze myself,” Jaron said with a roguish smirk.
The pair gathered their things that had been scattered by their meeting with the goblins, and headed off towards the nearest village. They could get there by nightfall, provided they did not need to put on any more shows. Jaron plotted the most probable goblin-free route in his head, directly from the ruins to the village tavern. He needed an ale, or two, or three…and boy would he have a story to tell.