Somewhere between Assur and Lastarr, in the month of Eleasias, 1372
The hobgoblin’s swollen tongue lolled from between his cracked and blood-flecked lips as he lay on the ground, dehydrated, dead.
During the night, Tuck the Hin had taken it upon himself to devise a ruse by which he thought the hobgoblin might lead the party back to his fellows. He had run toward the Curna Mountains, but devoid of water or supplies, he covered little ground before succumbing to the oppressive heat of the land.
Sahil was not sure what he thought of the hin’s stratagem, but in this hobgoblin’s death, at least, none of his companions had played a direct role. It was his fate, Sahil thought. Of this one’s death, our hands are clean. Not so the others.
Sahil did not recall who suggested severing the head of the hobgoblin and taking it with them to Lastarr. He remembered only turning his back as the others began their grisly work.
The town of Ormpe in the month of Kythorn, 1368
The goblin boy’s name was Snig, although he insisted that all the other children of the Ormpe slum call him Chieftain Snig. Alternatively, if you were lucky enough to be one of the lackeys who doled out beatings on his behalf rather than receiving them, you could get away with merely calling him Chief. Whatever you called him, though, he was known as the chief bully among the children of the shantytown.
His family had travelled out of the Beastlands when Snig was still a suckling, not wanting their child to experience the short and brutal life lived under the lash like so many of their race. True to their reputation, the people of The Shining Lands tolerated the goblin family’s presence among them, but tolerance is still a far cry from kindness: Freedom from the threat of harm is one thing; the promise of profitable living, another entirely.
It was hard enough for humans to find work in Ormpe. For goblins, it was nigh impossible. And so Snig’s family joined the rest of the masses here in the Quarter of No Hope eeking out a different type of short and brutal existence than that they had left.
Now, one could suggest that Snig turned bully because bullying was in his blood. One could suggest alternatively that the slums had the potential to turn even the kindest heart mean. Regardless of the cause, Snig had an early advantage at bullying insofar as goblins reach their full size long before their human peers, and that was enough for him to establish himself atop the pecking order long before his human contemporaries began to overshadow him in stature.
Sahil watched as Snig and his lackeys pushed themselves through the crowd of children. At its center was the barrel of clean, fresh water provided by Ashvath the Carter, who had long since left to carry on with the last of the day’s deliveries.
“Oy, did you pay for that water?” Snig snarled, peering down his wrinkled green nose at a small child named Navesh, not yet seven years old. “Because nothing’s free, friend, and you owe a water tax to Chieftain Snig.”
He smacked the child’s wooden bowl to the ground, and the spilled water turned red upon the dusty clay.
“Now, all you idiots, form an orderly queue like good children. Bring your tribute to Chieftain Snig and you’ll get your due. Never let it be said that Chieftain Snig is anything but fair, right lads?” he said, turning to the young thugs in his employ, who were snickering through idiotic, toothy grins.
Someone picked up a rock.
“This won’t end well,” whispered Sahil to his newfound bird companion, as the pair watched from beneath the eaves of a nearby shanty.
“End well! End well!” the bird tweeted. Sahil assumed the bird was merely repeating a phrase in a tongue that it seemed to be slowly learning. He had little time to contemplate the animal’s true meaning. Instead, he watched as a rock struck Snig right on the side of his boney green brow. It was hurled by the child Navesh, who ran away even as the crowd smelled blood and surged forward.
The crowd pushed forward. Snig and his fellows pushed back with a flurry of fisticuffs. And then, from amid the crowd, came a wet crash and a surge of water rushing past the crowd’s feet and stirring the red clay into a muddy slurry. The crowd parted, a stunned look on every face. The barrel had been overturned, the precious water spoiled.
“Enough!” The shout came from Sahil. He was chiefly known among them as the awkward child who had recently taken up the habit of holding whispered conversations with an albino pet bird. But now, his fists were clenched and his eyes ablaze with a light that suggested more than mundane anger.
The crowd parted as he approached. “You two,” he shouted to two of the burlier bullies. “Right that barrel.”
They obeyed, and Sahil stood behind the now-upright barrel, clenching the rim with white knuckled anger. “You fight over the water that quenches the body’s thirst, but you forget generosity and compassion for your fellows. That is the true water that satisfies the soul.”
“But if you would have mere water, then you shall have water enough.” Sahil began to intone a prayer beneath his breath, and his hands began to glow with a faint light. Soon, water began to trickle from his fingertips into the barrel. The trickle became a torrent, and the crowd watched in stunned silence as the water rose within the barrel until it began to overflow and pour over the rim. The children began to approach tentatively at first, then more eagerly, scooping water from their barrel and sharing it among the crowd.
Sahil drew a cup of water himself and offered it to Snig, who only stared in a combination of fear and wonder. “You who once demanded tribute will now render it onto another.”
Snig began to rifle through the folds of his garment, searching for whatever coppers he could find and fearing that any moment a bolt of divine wrath might strike down from the heavens.
Sahil merely smiled. “No, not unto me, friend. Unto them. The adama has seen fit to grant you a gift. Your companions obey your commands. But you shall no longer command them to take for your own benefit. You shall command them to give. Whenever we receive bread or water or any good thing, you shall ensure that everyone here gets what is needful and fair. Now, share a drink with me, friend." And with that, Snig took the cup from Sahil’s hand and drank.
From that day forward, the goblin Snig became Sahil’s most devoted disciple. And thus came to pass the first miracle of the child priest of the Ormpe trashpickers.
The Free City of Lastarr in the month of Eleasias, 1372
For the better part of the day, Sahil’s companions had walked from temple to temple, his companions haggling with priests and acolytes over the cost of a rite that would allow them to communicate with the severed head of the hobgoblin.
At this, Sahil was deeply confused, first over the idea that wonderworkers capable of such a miracle could be so plentiful that one could shop around for the better deal, and second, that miracles should be bartered and sold at all for such unimaginable prices.
The last of the temples wanted more than six-hundred gold. Sahil had no experience with such sums. His remembered only the barking of the street merchants in Ormpe, “Loaf of bread, two coppeeers! Loaf of bread, two coppeeers!” His brow creased as he counted calculated the numbers in his head. Thirty-thousand loaves. Thirty-thousand starving souls who, for just one day, might feel a respite from hunger.
It seemed a poor bargain for a moment of conversation with a severed head that, even when attached to its original shoulders, offered little in the way of helpful advice.
That evening, the party retired to a tavern called The Eye for a moment of respite and entertainment, but what Sahil observed there only continued to vex his soul, people spending gold freely on wine and women and gaudy spectacles.
“These too! These too!” whistled Pak-Pak quietly into Sahil’s ear.
Indeed, Sahil thought. These too. I must not forget that the adama dwells as much in those who forget as in those who are forgotten. He withdrew from his bag his wooden begging bowl. He touched its rim gently, watched as it filled with fresh water, and drank.