In the day’s last light, Mpik sat hunched over his work under an ancient oak’s canopy near the southern edge of Druadan forest. He was carving anew spear for himself, for his last one had broken buried in the side of an enraged boar. With a sharp stone, Mpik carved the tip of a green ash pole until its edges were thin as a leaf and sharp. Then he scraped out a deep crescent-moon shape at the top and honed the two points into a pincer-like speartip.
Once Mpik had perfected the fell shape of the weapon, it was ready to be hardened. There was a weapon-man, a keeper of flame in a stone oven, who thrust carved weapons into the edge of the fire to kill the supple wood-fiber until it was black and violently solid. He kept the small fire ever burning in a stone pit, and fed it sticks through a chute, for he disdained proximity to it. It was the only source of fire in all of Druadan and Greywood, save only on Eilenach and Amon Din, the beacons of Gondor.
But Mpik never took spears to the fire keeper. Only once had he, and then, lured by the gypsy flames, he watched what the weapon-man did to prime the spearhead, turning and turning it in the licking fire, which parted and curved around the wood as though it were luminous water parted by a diving snake. Mpik watched, and learned. And when he had made his new spear he went to a stony ravine and there secretly made a small fire of his own. He watched it in breathless delight as it sprang up, and held his hand out to feel its penetrating heat. After reveling in the fire’s dance for a moment, Mpik put his new spear above the flames. They leaped and snatched greedily, pawing the smooth wood surface. But they could not consume it, for it was too alive, being so newly plucked from the tree its mother.
When Mpik deemed his weapon strong enough, he submerged it hissing in a vessel of streamwater, yet he never took his eyes away from the beautiful fire.
Startled by a noise, Mpik quickly dowsed his small fire with dirt and pebbles. Holding his still-hot spear at the ready, he slunk up the shadowy rock face of the ravine, looking only like a glimmer of moonlight moving over the rocks. He edged his shaggy head over the grassy top of the hill and scanned the forest. He saw nothing at first, but then a scream and the sounds of drawn steel and pounding feet snapped his attention to the right.
There was a young Wild Maid, from his own clan, fleeing through the trees; and two horrible goblins, gorgun, chasing clumsily after her. One tripped and stubbed his toe against a treeroot, and the other stopped and picked up a rock to throw at the girl, who was far ahead of them now. Either by ill-chance or some unheard-of skill in the goblin, his heavy missile hit her squarely in the back and she fell. The two fiends laughed nastily and leaped forward at her, slobbering.
Suddenly a fierce cry descended on them, and they were assailed by a man stabbing and beating. They cried out in dismay, but soon realized that they outsized and outnumbered their attacker. The larger of the two swung a black sword at Mpik, and he blocked it with his spearhaft while kicking the other goblin in the knee. The large one took the scorching, double-pointed spear in his ribs. The small goblin jumped on Mpik and drove him to the ground, pulling free his grip on the spear. The first goblin stood and pulled the spear out of his tough, black skin, while the other raised a notched dagger over Mpik’s struggling form.
Khap had been tracking an ermine when he first saw the footprints. Ermine weren’t very nice to eat, but the sport of hunting them down and the reward of luxuriously soft furs drove Khap to bag as many as he could. He already had quite a few thick, white tails tipped with black hanging from his waist, and brown from the same species in their summer coats. But the hard, nailed bootprints accompanied by flat, clumsy barefeet expelled all thought of silky tails from Khap’s mind. Gorgun were here, the hated, the enemy. Khap immediately changed course and followed them quickly, trying to catch up. His cold, grey eyes were hard with determined revenge.
Mpik rolled and flipped the goblin off himself. He leapt up, grabbing a fallen branch. The goblins chortled. The wounded one threatened Mpik with his own spear, glimmering in the night with thick goblin-blood. The other goblin moved toward the Wild Maid, who desperately grabbed a stone—perhaps the very one that had felled her—to defend herself.
The large, wounded goblin thrust the spear at Mpik’s neck, and Mpik drove it away with his stick. He backed against a tree and defended himself from he swift jabs of the spear.
The girl threw her rock at the drooling goblin’s head, but he swerved and it dropped harmlessly over his shoulder. Fuming at herself for missing, she swung around behind a tree and began to climb for her life. The snarling monster darted after her and grabbed her ankle with a black, horny claw. She screamed. Then, suddenly, a knife seemed to grow out of the back of his head. Without uttering a sound, he crumpled at the foot of the tree, dead. The Wild Maid gasped and looked at Mpik battling the other goblin. Another knife flashed through the air and buried itself in the goblin’s neck. He toppled forward with the spear underneath him.
Mpik looked around, then kicked the goblin away and retrieved his spear. It was filthy but remained strong and unbroken.
Khap strode forward silently and pulled his knife first out of the goblin under the tree, then he went to the other. The maid climbed down and followed him. After he had both of his knives and had set about cleaning them on his strange kilt of animal skins, the girl said to him, “thank you for helping us.” the man nodded.
Mpik took a wide elm leaf from a low branch and attempted to cleanse his spear of the goblin-gore. “My name is Mpik,” he told the stranger, “and this is my cousin Kikkikrig.* We’re from the Brorigrig Clan.”
The man sheathed his knives alongside many others. “I am Khap,” he said. Mpik’s eyes hardened slightly, for Khap meant “wandering,” and branded him as an exile, a man with no family.
“Well, thank you,” Mpik said, and held out his hand. A small light kindled in Khap’s eyes, and he took the proffered hand with a wan smile. Then he left, soon disappearing in the night-gloom under the trees.
Mpik buried the two goblins, then said, “Come, we must tell Ghan-buri-Ghan of these gorgun.”
Kikkikrig fell into step beside him, twisting her arm to rub her bruised back. “You’re wounded,” Mpik said with concern, noticing scratches on her dirty face and blood oozing through her loosely woven grass tunic.
“Yes,” Kikkikrig sighed and swayed weakly. Mpik caught her up and caried her slowly home to the tree-village near the base of Eilenach.
It was a few hours before dawn when Mpik staggered into camp with little Kikkikrig asleep in his arms.
His father and a group of the men greeted him with weary relief. “You have defeated gorgun, my son.” It was a rhetorical question, touched with pride. Ghan-buri-Ghan knew everything that happened in the forest.
“Yes,” Mpik said, “with help.”
“We were preparing to search for you when you did not return.”
“I was weary, and Kikkikrig is sore wounded. I…am afraid that she has gone into death-sleep.”
Ghan leaned over her and looked at her eyes. He grunted softly. “Kikkikrig is empty of strength. Her body can heal; sleep will heal.” He lifted her into his wrinkled arms and carried her up the tree of her mother’s house.
Mpik sat on the wide, smoothed branch that served as his bed. He had barely had strength to climb to it, but now he could not rest. He had nearly died today. Yesterday, actually, for he sensed that the sun had already spread her first light behind the shadows of the east-mountains. There was no reason to believe that these were the last gorgun these lands would see, and Mpik worried that there was no strength in Druadan to resist them.
*Kikkikrig means “laughing.”