It was a good word count day. I added 2016 words. My total word count is 10944. The pep talk email from Neil Gaiman came in and it was a good one.
Finally Margeaux reached the fork in the path. She was certain from looking at the map earlier in the day that she'd want to take the second path and not the one that immediately went up. The first one went higher into the mountain while the second path was a passage through the mountain. She was correct. Margeaux drank some water and went on her way. She followed the second path. In a few hours the sun would start to go down. She did not know whether or not the passage would be lit or not. The walking stick would probably continue to be useful. She kept it with her. As Margeaux walked, she fiddled with it. She swung it from side to side or bounced it against the side of the mountain.
Before very much time had passed, Margeaux noticed the path began tunneling through the mountain. Perhaps it was the centuries of travelers who had worn the path but it now had the mountain on both sides of it. She came to an archway. Above the arch were symbols. They were not in a language she recognized. The words or pictures were worn into the mountain and seemed quite old. They were no longer sharply defined like a new or recent carving. The opening to the passage was a head or two taller than she. Whomever made the carvings had to be tall or had hung from the mountain to make them.
She peered inside. No light could be seen. Like most Barbarians, Margeaux had night blindness. If there were no lights further into the passage it would be a slow journey for her. Her guides would be the wall and her walking stick. She did not have a map for the passage. Her eyes closed and she prayed to the gods for a straight passageway and a quick journey. Cautiously she stepped inside.
As she walked along, Margeaux tapped the walking stick in front of her with her left hand. Her right hand ran along the smooth, cool stone wall. It grew darker the longer she kept walking. Her instinct kept telling her to take mincing steps but as long as her stick kept finding stone in front of her she kept to her normal strides. The passageway was not entirely straight. She realized she was unconsciously holding her breath. For a single moment she paused to breath in the air. It was cool and had the damp smell Margeaux associated with the underground. A few of the buildings in her village were underground or had cellars built into the ground behind them. It was a slightly unpleasant, claustrophobic feeling to be in one of them. Margeaux could feel the coolness of the stone wall through her glove.
Her walking stick hit something other than the floor. It was soft and yielding. She took a step backwards and stood as still as she could. Her head tilted to the side. She strained to hear anything. It felt like her heart was going to beat right out of her chest.
Next she felt claw like fingers attach to her legs. A net or another webbed material was thrown over her head. The net pulled her down to her knees. She was hoisted up from the floor and carted off in the direction she was headed. Her arms struggled but the net was so tight she could not move them. The walking stick that had been such a big help before was now a hindrance. It poked into her chest. She smelled sour breath from rotting meat and heard raspy, heavy breathing. Surely whatever smaller creatures were carrying her would find her to be too heavy. From the pressure of their shoulders and arms there were at least six who were underneath her. Maybe they were giant ants. She tried to shift her weight around from side to side. She wanted to be an unbalanced burden to her captors. Several of them shouted something in protest. A few hissed. Her reward was a sharp poke in the ribs. It was unpleasant. It was difficult to keep her bearings and she had no idea if the passageway ever straightened out or not. It was still dark inside the passage but it was starting to get lighter. Soon she was at the end. Ahead of her she could barely make out the outlines of the creatures. They were the slightly shorter than Chim and carried spears. One had a bag slung over its shoulder. The passage exit was ahead. It looked like she had been taken prisoner by goblins!
The sun was still in the sky, but just barely. The air was fresher. The path the goblins carried her was on a decline. How was she going to get out of this mess? Her mind raced, going through the list of spells she'd learned. She wasn't proficient enough at any to be able to cast them without a resource material. About the best she could hope for were a bunch of scattered flames that might take them by surprise or singe the hair on their feet. When they reached the bottom of the path, the sun was nearly gone from its perch in the sky. She hoped she wasn't supposed to be their dinner. A Barbarian would certainly feed this group for a few days. They took her through the grass until they reached a wide wooden door in the side of the mountain. The goblin with the spear that wasn't carrying a bag, opened the door. The goblins lowered Margeaux and carried her inside the mountain. Some grunted under the effort to maintain the support of her weight. A pathway to the left appeared to still be in progress. Several pickaxes were stuck in the wall. Her captors continued down the main path. Eventually the goblins put her inside a wooden cage. She was locked inside. All of the goblins left her alone in the cage. Behind the cage were several buildings that appeared to be constructed from wood and straw. She could not stand upright in the cage as it was not tall enough for her.
Torches lining the walls provided enough light for her to see her surroundings. She untangled herself from the net. The goblins had not taken away her belongings. She still had her pack, the knife in her pocket, and the walking stick. One goblin returned and stood guard outside the door of her cage.
Margeaux had not seen a goblin before now but the descriptions were enough to tell her it was indeed a goblin stronghold that held her. The head was a nearly bald, flat dome. A small sprout of white hair grew from each ear. Its mouth was a jumble full of teeth. One bite could cause a permanent injury. Those teeth were long and could easily amputate a hand or foot. It wore a loincloth and had a tattoo on its back. She recognized it as one of the symbols above the archway. It wore feathers and gold in its ears.
Margeaux didn't consider herself lucky which is why she never gambled with the bones or cards at the tavern. If she had bad luck it was very possible the map Rykel had given her was outdated. She didn't remember seeing a goblin encampment on the other side of the mountain passageway noted on the map. Another goblin approached and spoke to the goblin that was guarding her. She did not understand anything the raspy voices were saying. The guard stepped away to provide some privacy to the second goblin. She figured she'd know soon enough if they intended to eat her.
This goblin seemed to be of a higher rank than her guard. It had more gold in its ears and more tattoos on its body. A headdress of feathers sat on top of its head. The pointed ears were at an exaggerated angle. It squatted down and faced Margeaux. It spoke to her in Barbarian. The smell of this goblin was even worse than the smell of the others. It had the familiar smell of herbs about it.
"Why do you come from the other side of the mountain alone?"
"I am on a journey."
The goblin was silent a moment before it nodded. It realized she was speaking the truth. "You are young. Why didn't one of the elders or someone else accompany you?"
"Most of them are too sick to make a journey this long."
"Where are you from?"
"I am from the snow lands of the North."
"Your people… the ones who are sick… do they cough?" The eyes of the goblin narrowed.
"Yes. How - how did you know?"
"The sickness is here too." The blue tongue of the goblin flicked out across its lips. It studied her.
"Do you have the cure here?"
"There is no cure. Everyone dies."
Margeaux shook her head negatively. "No. In my village there's a rub we put on their chests. Most will get better."
"Do you know this cure?"
"Some of it."
"I'll talk to our King. We may be able to offer you freedom in exchange for the parts of the cure you know."
"Thank you." Margeaux bowed her head.
The goblin left. It went to the building with the most ornate entrance. Figures were carved into the walls of the building. It was as if a story was told in pictures for all of the goblins to remember.
The guard stepped closer to the cage. It puffed his chest out with self importance whenever another goblin walked past the cage. Margeaux withdrew her knife from the pants pocket that hid it. She scooted towards the back of the cage. As silently as she could manage, the knife sawed away at the lower bars of the cage.