I looked at the Chief, gobsmacked.
"This is your castle?" I asked, shaken.
Gitlog grinned, his metallic smile glinting against the soft light suffusing the cavern.
"Was me dad's. He was biggun in Gobbo army. One o' the first Lords to almost kill da' King," he said proudly.
"So not all Chiefs have a castle like this?" I asked, tentative.
Gitlog barked a laugh. "Nah. Most hava little camp with piled rocks'n'stuff."
I sighed, relieved. "So, can you take me to the Hob? I want to get my shield repaired as soon as possible."
A hand like corded steel smacked my back, a barking laugh following the wheeze of breath leaving my body.
"You wanna get strong fast so we can fight again huh? Good humie. Let's go." He walked along the side of the castle, walking around to the back.
He turned his head towards me. "Look away humie. Secret entrance."
I did as he asked, but activated the boots' ability 'Third Eye'. The image of Gitlog appeared in my mind, he pressed three small stones in a deliberate and slow order. I made note of the detail. A secret way in to a potential future enemy's lair was always handy. Even if that enemy was being helpful now.
With a solid click, part of the wall swung inwards.
"You can look now," said Gitlog, his voice hushed.
I turned back, following Gitlog through the now-open door. We stepped into a dank hallway, moss covering the walls of grey stone. A single torch burned brightly, illuminating the long passage for a few meters before fading back into darkness. Gitlog walked now with a fast stride, no longer caring if he made any noise. Before long, we came to a heavy steel door, dented from the inside at multiple points across it. It looked as if some monster had tried to punch their way through.
Despite the damage, when Gitlog pulled the handle it swished open easily and without sound. Inside was a blinding light against the darkness to which I had become accustomed. I alternated winking my eyes, letting them adjust to the sudden change. In the room I saw a large forge burning with white intensity. A diminutive silhouette was busy smashing a hammer into a glowing piece of metal.
Gitlog walked over to a stand which held three swords of similar size and form of the one he had been using. I had to stop myself from exclaiming at the sight. I hoped that the others weren't at the same level as the one he'd been using. If so, each of those swords would each fetch a king's ransom back in the Empire.
"Gitlog," I said casually, "are those swords all identical?"
Gitlog looked away from the sword rack and back to me. "Wha? No."
Relief flooded into me. "Oh, I was just curious."
Gitlog nodded amiably, flashing a steely smile. "They's all got different magics. I leaves em wit da Hob ere' to gets em' all sharp'n'fixed."
I tensed for a moment but remembered that Gitlog seemed to be rather well-off for a Goblin Chief. His castle alone was apparently proof of that. I decided to try and fish for more information while the opportunity existed. "Are all Goblin Chiefs as well-equipped, Gitlog?"
Gitlog smiled, his bladed teeth glinting in the forge-light. "Nuh uh Humie," he waved a finger in front of me, as if admonishing a child. "I think that'd be enough info for you. Not gonna tell yous everythin'."
The large Goblin turned to the figure who had just ceased his hammering.
"Heph, this Humie needs ta fix his shield. Git it done."
'Heph' pulled off two pitch-black goggles, and picked out small pieces of wool he'd stuffed into his ears. He was a small figure, much like all Hobs I'd seen, save for the deep tan on his forearms and face. He also looked to be made almost entirely of tightly-corded muscle. The eyes which looked out from his soot-darkened face were bright and intelligent, taking me in mere moments.
He bowed his head to Gitlog and spoke in a surprisingly rich baritone.
"Why would we wish to aid this Human in his goals? Surely, they are maligned to our own. I would suggest that we kill him rather than fix his equipment, Chief Gitlog."
Gitlog laughed, his teeth gnashing.
"Nah, I wanna keep him fightin'. He's gonna help me get stronger and kill da King. Ain't ya Humie?"
I smiled, not taking my eyes away from Heph. "That's right. I plan to give your master here a good enough fight to bring him to the next level. I can't do that without my gear being maintained."
Heph just grunted, walking over to a workbench which fell just below my hips in height, but was at chest-level for the Goblin. "Very well," he beckoned to me, "bring to me your inferior Human craftsmanship." He sneered the word Human as though it were distasteful on his lips.
I walked over, unslinging the shield from my arm. I leaned over, placing the wounded shield lightly in front of him. The breath caught in the Hobgoblin's throat at the sight of the shield.
After extremely careful inspection, he turned slowly to look me in the eye. "Where did you get this shield?" his voice was a deadly whisper.
My hand went unconsciously to the sword at my belt, fingering the pommel. "I was given this shield by the Council of Living Weapons. Along with a set of similar gear. I know that it's of Hob make, the shield told me itself." His eyes flicked back to the shield. I heard a barely audible, "So the legends are true..."
He turned back to Gitlog. "Kill him now, Chief. Kill him and steal this shield, and you will be able to take the King in mere months."
Gitlog seemed to consider the idea, the air became tense with possibility. He eventually came to a decision. "Temptin', but nah. Right now, I think da Humie'd kill us both. I wanta kill him fair'n square, one on one. In a duel, that's what Kings do after all."
I smiled, my hand falling away from the sword's handle.
Heph glared at me, I could almost feel the hate boring into my skull.
"That shield," growled Heph, "was hand-crafted by the greatest Hob smith to ever live...my grandfather. You have no right to wield it." He gestured harshly at the gash taken out of the shield, the gouges in the metal. "You have treated a priceless artifact with nary a thought to preserving it. This shield, properly used, should never fall into this condition!"
I again held the hilt of my sword, holding out my right hand in order to placate the enraged smith. "Listen, this shield has been with the Living Weapons for decades. I'm sorry if I haven't respected it properly, but it didn't exactly come with an instruction manual-"
The Hob shot up to his feet, brandishing a heavy-forge hammer. I flicked the sword out of its sheath in a flash, holding the edge of the blade against his throat. The smith held absolutely still, his eyes glued to the blade on his neck. A heavy weight settled on my shoulder as I felt something sharp against the side of my neck; Gitlog held a massive sword lightly to my throat.
Heph smiled in wicked joy. "Kill him now. Do it, and we will rule this Kingdom."
Gitlog flashed a smile, dropping the sword from my neck and surprising us both by lunging forward and delivering a painful looking kick to the Hob's stomach, smashing him against the wall. Just as I was sighing in relief, he delivered a stunning blow to my own stomach. I collapsed to the ground, coughing in pain.
Despite being shorter than I was, Gitlog managed to tower over us both. "I told you," he said, stabbing a finger towards Heph, "to fix the shield. Not to try and git yerself killed." He whirled to glare at me. "Don't threaten my smith. Heph's da best smith in Kingdom. Need him, still decidin’ if I need you. Get me?"
I nodded, sucking in a painful breath. "He was the one who pulled a hammer on-"
Gitlog laughed. "But you dinna have to draw a sword. Yer a warrior, you coulda' just taken the hammer from 'im." He made a good point, I nodded. "I'm sorry for that. The Council teaches us to react with weapons, not with a non-lethal disarm.”
“Swords, not words eh?” Gitlog barked a laugh at his pun, dropping the sword from my neck. Just like that, the tension bled out of the room.
Heph stepped backwards, sitting back down at his workbench and replacing the hammer in its proper spot. The Hob sighed heavily, looking at the shield with real mourning in his eyes. “I will repair Vellen. I suppose I should be honored to work on my grandfather’s craftsmanship. However, I have a request of you, Chief,” he turned to look at Gitlog. “If you kill him, bring me the shield. It would mean a lot to wield the shield crafted to defend Hobgoblin kind.”
Gitlog roared with laughter, patting Heph heavily on the back. “Done! But I git the rest o’ his gear. Got some good stuff fer a Humie.” He turned and walked back to the heavily-dented door, looking back to meet eyes with me. “Leave da way we came when da shield is done. Next time I sees ya’ I kill ya’.” He strode out the door, his booming laughter echoing behind him.
I looked at the smith, the air still somewhat tense between us.
"Listen, that shield means a lot to me, and it seems like it means a lot to you-"
The Hob cut me off. "Its name is Vellen. Use it."
I nodded. "Sorry. You seem to care about Vellen as well. Is there anything you can tell me to keep this from happening again?"
The Hob was silent for a long time. Finally, he nodded. "Will show you a few tricks. But if they ever aid you, that's just an unpleasant side effect. I just want Vellen to survive long enough for me to inherit what's mine. Understood?"
I bowed my head slightly. "Thank you, on behalf of Vellen. I'll let it know that you have taken enough care to educate me in its care."
"Fine, fine," the Hob's eyes had softened somewhat. "Go, sit down, I have work to do. You very nearly destroyed one of the finest artifacts in existence. I don't need you underfoot."
I nodded and sat down in the corner, watching Heph work on my friend, helping me to continue my journey.
Despite the noise, I eventually drifted to sleep.