I was to find out about goblins, soon enough. These vile, spiteful creatures are like a twisted mockery of the gnomes I have come to love. I recall Keshjit speaking of them:
“Zatargre is a god of fire, just as the gnomes are born from the eternal flame of Igna. So, he took our form, and cherishes us. But there is another deity of fire: the goddess Goomdra, who birthed the goblins. She loves them only when they die for her, or when they kill. Ours is the campfire that heats our food, and the warmth of the sun that makes things grow. Theirs is the blaze, out of control, blistering skin and destroying homes. So, we live in the light, in the warm savannah, or walk the Long Desert, whilst they lurk underground, near the lifeless pits of lava, venturing out only to destroy and steal and kill.”
But I did not understand the true nature of these monsters until they attacked us in the night. As we sat and listened to Keshjit tell a story, we heard a cry from one of the sentries. The gnomes barely had time to form a circle around the children, with Keshjit at the centre, before the goblins poured forth, their vicious blades glinting in the firelight. I fumbled for my rifle, taken completely by surprise. Burning arrows rained down upon us, striking gnomes, and setting fire to several caravans. In front of me, Haljit was struck in the stomach, and fell to the floor, clutching at his abdomen, bleeding profusely. I raised my rifle and shot at the goblin, but my hands were shaking, and I missed my target. When it saw me, the creature fixed me with a look of palpable hatred and snarled, its mouth impossibly wide in its oval head. With a fiery anger visible in its every movement, it lunged forwards and bit my arm as I raised it to defend myself. I am not ashamed to say that I feared for my life.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of pipes, playing a beautiful melody that washed over me, bringing with it warmth and life and bravery. Keshjit stood at the centre of our circle, playing for all the world as though she were the only person present. Calm and graceful, she rallied her people, and they heard the call. Fighting with the hooked hammers that are the favoured weapons of the gnomes, they struck at the goblins, or skilfully tripped them. I shook off the goblin that clung to me and swung my rifle at it like a club. I felt it connect with the creature’s head: it fell and did not get up.
The rest of the fight was a blur of steel and teeth and fire. At some point, I was hit by an arrow, but I did not notice until after we had driven the monsters off, and the survivors fled into the night. I ran over to Haljit, but I could tell straight away that he was done for. Although he still drew breath, the wound in his stomach was too deep, and without a surgeon, his fate was sealed. However, the night held one more surprise for me. Keshjit walked over and knelt next to her son, and she swiftly chanted in the tongue I now knew was the arcane language of magic. He rolled over, opening his eyes, and when he took his hands away from his belly, I saw that the gaping wound had gone, leaving barely a scar.
Others were less fortunate than Haljit. Five gnomes had been killed, including the sentry who had raised the alarm. Two caravans were destroyed and others badly damaged. The goblins had made off with a good deal of the gnomes’ food stores as well. Apparently, the attack had been a diversion whilst they raided the supply wagon. The gnomes burned their dead on funeral pyres and began the work of repairing the remaining caravans. “My people are strong,” Keshjit told me. “But I dream of a day when we can live at peace. We gave up much to come to this world. I hope it will be worth it in the end.”