The Goblin and the Sorcerer
by Everett A Warren
Dark and dismal were the vapours that clung to the hollows of the central tower room, climbing through the lofty arched windows, escaping by clambering down and down the winding spiral stone stairs – or by plunging over the precipice of that narrow walkway and down into the endless vertigo that extended through the center of the tower; continuing long after the steps ended in a platform with a small door that led to the barren hillock the tower's foundations are set in; continuing into realms beyond thought and planes of existence far removed from the world of mortals.
In that central tower room dwelt one sorry creature – the sorcerer's slave. He knelt in the shadowed soot-blackened alcoves, he cowered beneath that strange statue that once had spoken and walked as he did, and he stood motionless behind tapestries depicting scenes that even goblinkin such as he found utterly revolting and beyond all decorum of even the most violently angry and hideous beings he had hitherto been acquainted with.
Short of stature and ugly in appearance, the pitiful creature skulked from one nook to another cranny, ever shaking as he made each traverse. He would hide especially well when he heard the Master's soft-slippered footsteps descending with subtlety upon the iron spiral staircase that spidered down in the center of the vast room from the unlit heights above, for the Master had little love of goblins, as did few in the world, not even excepting the goblins themselves.
Yes, ugly and hateful creatures were his race, walking on knobby legs splayed out, their bellies held by too little muscle and roiling bulbously with their strange gait. Back hunched forward, long, too long, arms with long, too long, narrow fingers dragging and nasty-looking claws scratching furrows alongside. Balanced impossibly on bony shoulders, a narrow neck topped by a large elongated skull that still protected far too little in the way of thought potential, being that most of the bulk was rock solid bone, with the smallest bit etched out for simple motor and reasoning functions. Eyes, bloodshot, enlarged and set back, accented by a sloping forehead, with a nose little more than two openings below the eyes, whose sole purpose appeared to be the production of the prodigious quantities of mucus, but in truth had exceptional sensory capabilities. A wide mouth with rubbery lips, long tongue lolling out, several sharp teeth and several dull teeth, and many rotting stumps that once were teeth. The whole structure of the creature, scrawny and spindly with drawn muscles yet at the same dripping with useless fat; all stretched and wrapped by flapping stretches of green gibbous flesh; boils, warts, and sores; stringy hair wherever it could grow roots – this was the lot of goblinkind and goblinkin.
Yes, ugly and hateful where his race; but much less so than the Master. Mortal human might this one's flesh be, and young as far as sorcerers go – barely a century of Winters had descended upon him – with the handsome, refined looks of a gentleman only into his early middle years, one with whom the Matrons and Maidens alike are smitten upon first glance – ah, this man is as hideous as the company he keeps in the tapestries upon the central tower room's walls, behind which a goblin attempts to fit in like mortar between two cyclopean blocks of stone as the whisper of exotic fabrics swirl around the staccato of soft-slippered feet sliding down iron stairways high above in swirling shadows.
"Morgorth!" hisses the voice in a whispering bellow, the same voice that charms the ladies in the high courtly drama of a grand ball. The sugar yet remains on the tongue, coating the dagger's blade like poison that will rush through the wound to the brain, numbing the goblin with obedience. "My friend, where hide you now? Under my desk, mayhaps? Oh, but you know how I despise you fretting with that desk, for some objects there may undo your worthless life far more painfully than I may dare to dream. The fireplace again? Remember well the touch of the flames when I breathe my power unto smoldering embers."
Morgorth shuddered, wishing the crack was deeper, wishing he could begin to wedge himself into it, to melt with the stone and be done with this place.
And the tapestry began to writhe.
Horrified, he forced his unblinking eyes to focus upon the cloth whilst it churned as if it were the surface of the tempestuous oceans. A wind was aroused through the motions of the cloth, and slowly the goblin realised what was occurring. Millions of insects swarmed over the fabric, and it fell in tatters of threads, the weave exposed and replaced by wings, the wings attached to teeth that nibbled on fabric and goblin alike. He fell to the floor, writhing along with the hideous wall hanging – though he was still solid, and the tapestry was no more than tenuous threads. He smashed and scratched and swiped and even cried, large tears filled with salt deposits, tinged green by association with a creature that should not cry. This amused the Master. Morgorth looked up when the laughter grew louder than the buzzing of the swarm around his head.
And the swarm was gone.
A single, weak, underfed goblin crouched on the floor, hands over his head, the tapestry strewn about him, torn to shreds by the claws upon his fingertips.
A man, neither slight of stature nor wide of girth, stood before him, laughing. The man may as well have been one of the gods – or all of them combined into one terrible universal avatar – for all that it mattered to the whimpering, wretched creature huddled on the stone floor. The cloak surrounding the Master whirled in all colours base and hateful, and whatever shimmer of light, no matter how bright or joyous or gay, might reflect upon the fabric, found itself hopelessly twisted and contorted into a hue so violent that the senses reeled in agony at a glance.
The Master's laughter had never been a pleasant sound, but it had always been worse when it stopped abruptly, and now the Master quieted of a sudden, leaving a terrible void behind where cacophonous din had been a moment before.
"Morgorth, I do believe I must punish you for destroying that tapestry. Have you any idea how rare that piece was? I do not find it amusing that you have chosen such a juvenile form of expression at its expense."
The goblin winced and looked up from the floor where he cowered, his head tucked between his knees, and his eyes peering under his thigh, presenting the most insignificant profile he could manage, again wishing that he might melt into the stones.
The Master snapped his fingers.
No fancy phrases in half forgotten arcane languages, no contortions of hand and body to channel powerful magic, no gorgon's blood or dragon's tooth or any other exotic ingredient consumed by the spell.
Just pain. Pure, unbearable, unrefined, pain.
No bright lights or whirling extravagant designs, no thunderous explosions or arcing lightning, no blood fountaining from gaping wounds, no crushing by invisible forces, no big show or spectacle whatsoever.
Simple, efficient, cutting pain.
When Morgorth stopped screaming – his breath beginning to rush through wheezing lungs, his body lying twisted in agony, what control allowed by his little brain returning reluctantly to his sway – the Master walked to his desk.
"Fetch me two drabs of quicksilver." The Master did not look up as he spoke, but continued to study a piece of ancient parchment on his desk.
Morgorth rose slowly, with furtive, fearful glances at the Master, and quick, anxious glances towards his destination; for he was mapping out the quickest route to retrieve the requested items.
"Now!" came the screeching hiss, and the goblin limped as fast as he could to the set of shelves wherein the requested component could be found. Obediently, he retrieved the flask, measured out two drabs into a small tube and shuffled over to a large table behind the Master's desk, where countless experiments bubbled and hissed, some due to fires lit beneath vessels and pipes, some due to their semi-living nature, and others for no apparent reason. The Master prepared a quick spell that would protect his person during the experiment, and then held out his hand for the tube, where Morgorth cautiously placed it.
"You were too slow."
One drab of mercury went into the beaker, and the other drab, along with the valuable glass tube, was hurled at the groveling little green creature known as Morgorth. The goblin was promptly punished for breaking the glass tube and again for screaming when the mercury dribbled over his flesh, thus interrupting the Master's concentration.
Copyright © 1993 Everett A Warren
You can read the complete story in my collection, Cautionary Fables: Warts & All, available on Amazon.com or by order from your local bookseller.