[The Last of Baladolc's Privateers; a short story inspired by a rather catchy song I have recently been enjoying "The Last of Barrett's Privateers". It may also have a section inspired by a certain old-school game known and "The Bard's Tale".]
The Last of Boladolc’s Privateers
“C’mon o’er ‘ere why dancha! C’mon now, I’s won’ts bites!” The brightly dressed goblin, somewhat floppy hat perched on his shaven scalp, gestured enthusiastically from behind a rather small, though enthusiastically decorated stage, around which he wheeled himself. “Unless yers wants me to o’course!”
On reflection, I think he should have left the laughter out of his presentation because it was quite the unpleasant sound, something between toilet pipes backing up and a cat trying to expectorate a hairball. In this dreary part of the lower caverns of Sèlene on a quiet Thursday, his effort was worthy of noting with respect though, he wasn’t even drunk. He continued his capering, adrenaline-filled escapades for a good few minutes, drawing quite a few curious glances from passers-by, on their way to shop for or scrounge what they could but not much else. Once his until then invisible companions started up on bodhran and feadòg, a hearty thump accompanied by shrill peeps, heads turned more quickly on neck,
“Oh, it was the year 2478” he began, voice loud and lusty.
“I wish I was in Shâr Barûk now” responded the musicians, their voices much reedier, but with good harmony
“An epistle o’ mark came in from the Hèg/To the most toùgùd vessel I’d ever happened to skeg!”
“Gods gam them all!”
“I was told we’d sail the stars for Amareita gold, we’d fire no gun. Shed no tears. Now I’m a broken gob down here in Sèlene, the last of Boladolc’s Privateers!”
I zoned out as verse bled into verse, the feardòg went silent and both musicians pounded bodhran with unequalled joy. For a goblin, the lead singer had a gamming good voice, and I liked the lustiness of his delivery, a good and true dynser's chanty. It was also a true story, especially the part about him, the goblin, losing both his legs and being the sole survivor afore-named privateer group. That’s why I was here, I needed to speak to the lead singer, who went by the name of Leggie, who was accumulating a fair few coins and tokens in the hat he’d tossed onto the dusty ground earlier. I was in no hurry, he’d sing another song, maybe two, then head off for the tavern with his mates. They’d have enough to buy enough of that rotgut ghâgh the goblins made from mushrooms or something. I could wait, I’d been trailing Leggie for long enough. His was the kind of story you'd only get once in a lifetime and, as long as you did it right, you'd probably not need another one afterwards.
As he broke into another song about a ship called the Day-y-ddýn and some sort of space mòrmoil or another, I enjoyed the beat with my ears but used my eyes to have a look around. We were deep below the surface of Sèlene; above the dwarf mines but below the military zones, in a curious area of staytik between the two. Neither Empyraen Military Code nor Dwarf Law applied here, although both were respected to a point. This place was run by syndicates and kollègion, not criminal enterprises mè tà, but not completely legal either. Most of them, like the Scârgod y Màdrûn or The Mushroom’s Shadow, to which this lustily singing goblin was said to belong, existed as beneficent organisations to help their people by whatever means available, most of which fell into the cracks within and between the two legal systems that dominated on Sèlene. Of course, goblin law was quite a thing by itself it nobody knew much about that, unless one was a goblin. Leggie here was quite the goblin of note in that society and that was one reason I was following him.
The other reason for the story was simple; my 'business partner' and associate, the much-esteemed (mainly by himself) and amusingly-named Dog-Tail Johgnny, was also a goblin. I owed Johnny more than one favour and, Johnny nbeing as he was, that meant that, by extension, I owed goblinkind as a whole. Something more valuable than the gold he’d been singing about just now. This was supposed to be a simple enough job, a public interest piece as Johnny liked to call it. Easy contact and information gathering exercise, not at all dangerous or challenging. Not like the last one, which has also been a public interest piece, in its way. However, the root of said interest, a 'businessman' known only as
I wasn’t alone though.
A quick scan of the cavern, full of buildings that both looked temporary and very old, making up ramshackle streets and alleys, many of which were decorated with refuse of some kind. I was supposed to blend in and observe, engage no one and get into no trouble but clearly the briefing I’d been given was not complete and trouble was, at least, anticipated. I spotted three of them.
Two were expected, dressed all nondescript and, so, standing out like a sore thumb to anyone who knew how to look. The thing is that those two were there to be spotted, I realised, because they drew attention away from one who did blend in despite the fact that he should not.
I saw him then.
The Nipper of all Nippers! It clicked for me then, it wasn’t that nobody could see him, it was that nobody wanted to see him, no one dared
He should have been the centre of attention down here but no eye fixed on him for long enough. He was tall and he was old, he has a long and severe face with shiny psyber parts around his throat and jaw. He wore common enough fatigue trousers and boots, but his coat looked more pirate than my goblin friend over there. It was a long and flowing coat of olive drab with a wide collar and good brass buttons. He wore the darkened down arm plate of the Navy on this right shoulder and his chief’s stripes were plain to see on his sleeves. There was a big pistol holstered on his hip with a black-handled knife sheathed behind it. He wasn’t even trying to hide, despite of those odd woven glasses he wore to hide those creepy eyes of his.
The Nipper of all Nippers! It clicked for me then, it wasn’t that nobody could see him, it was that nobody wanted to see him, no one dared. Looking at him for more than a fraction of a fraction of a second meant that he might look back at you. Which is exactly what he was doing now, with a languid finger, he pushed up those weird glasses and may have winked.
There really wasn’t much I could do now, my backup had melted away into the background, clearly, they’d seen Evil-Eye Balor and bhandasamed right quick. I hesitated and two thoughts struck me; I was completely unarmed, and I was still alive.
That old bànànach nodded, cocking his head as to be sure I’d notice, he indicated the goblin, who was now packing up, with his eyes. I pivoted to watch Leggie enthusiastically gathering up what was a rather decent haul with his splay-fingered hands, dropping it into a special compartment inside of the wheeled cart he occupied. He moved quite quickly then, his companions ambling behind him. As I turned to follow, I chanced a glance towards where that ciotog had stood but he’d vanished like the evil spirit he resembled.
Well, I was between Scylla and Charybdis here; I could try and complete my mission under the assumption that the pale-eyed devil might kill me or not complete it and be certain that my employers would. Not much of a choice, eh Cassander? I followed the goblins.
“Humans pays up front like,” he husked as goblins normally do. “case youse eats da food and can’t be payin’ laterwards like.”
The goblin tavern was quite surprising, I’d expected it to be low-ceilinged and cave-like and wasn’t disappointed there. What I hadn’t expected was how neat and clean it was, nor how nice it smelled. The place was low-lit and somewhat gloomy, just as goblins liked it, I hear, but every surface was clean and well-maintained. I’d been to human bars that didn’t even come close to equalling this place on a bad day. Groups of goblins sat in booths moulded into the rock walls. It looked like they’d made walls of natural stone and covered it with some kind of mòrteal of gypsum or thick, textured paint to make it look cave-like. Real lamps and artificial ones were spread out well, the oil of the natural lamps adding to the wholesome smell. There was a background odour of mushrooms, but it was not unpleasant, having a savoury, almost floral undertone to it. The clientele were almost exclusively goblins, as were the staff and, as I’d expected, I drew immediate attention as I tried to compensate for the low ceilings and hanging stalactites. Close to a hundred pairs of piggy red eyes swivelled in my direction the second I entered. The bargoblin, wearing a neat white apron, looked me up and down in mild disbelief, goblin ghâgh tends to kill humans and so did their food. I saw several tables upon which sizzling platters of mushrooms were placed before diners. I am no expert on fungi mýkas but had heard that there was nothing that grew underground that goblins could not eat; the contents of one of those platters would probably mean painful, agonising, yet simultaneously ecstatic death for me while I imagined flying around the room. The diners were frozen, forks midway to mouth, the drinkers held glasses halfway to being drunk. The bargoblin was, perhaps stereotypically, polishing a glass but his beady eyes were fixed directly on me, though his expression was not hostile. I don’t think I was this tavern’s only human customer.
The karafe of wine the bargoblin produced was testament to that. Goblins don’t drink wine, saying that it tastes like vinegary foùro to them. The bargoblin, not taking his eyes off mine, poured a half glass of dark wine and slid it across the granite bar top towards me and waited.
“Humans pays up front like,” he husked as goblins normally do. “case youse eats da food and can’t be payin’ laterwards like.”
I nodded dumbly and set a pair of chieftains on the bar, he smiled and placed a hoary fingernail on one of them and scooped it up. I indicated the other coin, sure no glass of wine cost even a drachma. Taking a sip, I savoured its flavour, this was a fine vintage and I told him so.
“Kotsifali ’48, from da màr demeter ampel¡,” he growled in a friendly manner.
“This is Selenar?” I couldn’t believe that; this was at least as good as a fine Gaian vintage.
“Yers, boss, gots us some shiny domes up over there, lower gravity makes it sweeter, da ampelògos tells me.” He smiled. Now let me tell you something, it doesn’t matter how friendly a goblin is trying to be, they always look they they’re about to tear off your face when they smile at you. It’s vital – absolutely vital – that if you ever end up in a goblin tavern in the future that you don’t flinch when a goblin smiles at you. More importantly than that, do not cringe away in terror as I did because that made the bargoblin laugh at me in a gleefully wicked fashion. Then everyone in the bar joined in with him and soon the entire tavern has in an uproar of absolute embarrassment. I fought to control myself and not blush but, as I’m sure you know, the harder one tries to make one’s body not do something, the harder it tries to do it. I glowed cherry red and that made them laugh even more. Now, important lesson here too, let them laugh, don’t get offended, because goblins are a very self-deprecating species and will very much appreciate any human that can take the onslaught of hilarity I was now weathering. Button that lip, swallow that pride, and gain the wee green fellows’ respect!
It’s either that or they really will tear your face off.
“Good on yer,” the bargoblin smiled again just for badness. “Whats brings yer here, coz I’s sure it ain't the overpriced wine and shiny atmosphere.”
“I’m looking for a goblin.”
“Well yas in luck, boss, coz we 'as ‘undreds of ‘em in ‘ere.”
I had no choice. I laughed and laughed, the tension draining out of me as I chuckled. The fact that it hadn’t even been that good a joke only served to make it funnier and harder to stop laughing. The bargoblin appeared unsure whether I was complimenting him or winding him up, but he took it silently. I took a gulp of wine to stifle my giggles and composed myself with a great effort. Several embarrassing failures and five minutes later, the bargoblin clearly having learned much patience in his work, eyeballed me with impressive sarcasm. “Any goblin in parr-tick-you-larr?”
“Leggie,” I said, ignoring his humour. “Leggie the singer.”
“There’s only one Leggie,” he replied, as if that was unfortunate oversight on the part of whatever gods had created goblins. “Whats you wants wiv ‘im?”
“I have a proposition for him,” I began but the bargoblin cut me off.
“Who don’t?” He guffawed. “Leggie’s near as famous as Iouri Da Kòsmos is ‘ere! Everyone gots a proposition fer ‘im.”
I’d promised not to say the name unless it was completely necessary, but I felt like I was about to lose control of this situation and the bargoblin’s eyes were getting a lot less friendly even if his mouth wasn’t.
I said the name.
Silence. Absolute and almost physical in its heaviness.
“If’n I was wantin’ me name up in lights and me mukh on every corner, I has ways to achieve that meself, I don't needs to be mixin' up with one such as yerself who's gots a target painted on 'is back.”
A cough and the sound of creaking wood broke that silence. “Bring ‘im ovva ‘ere Cruisie!” a cracked voice shouted. “I’s been waitin’ fer this one.”
The bargoblin, Cruisie, raised an eyebrow and led me over there.
Leggie was no longer on his little wooden trolley, and he was no longer dressed in what looked like the cast-offs of a flamboyant but down on their luck pirate. He was sat on a well-stuffed chair with a brightly coloured blanket of knotted threads draped over where his legs would be. He wore a fine cream linen shirt with laces instead of buttons under a waistcoat of black leather. He also no longer wore his battered pirate hate, revealing a fine head of reddish-brown hair that he’d left free to fall down to his shoulders. I’d never seen a goblin with long hair before so failed completely to hide my surprise. His face was also clean-shaven, which was again a rarity for male goblins. The females tended to shave but the males preferred to sport a variety of beards and luxurious moustaches. He had strong features with high cheekbones and, I realised, a beard or even a moustache would hide these.
“I'm told you're as direct and honest a goblin as I'll ever meet, Mr. Leggie, so I'll be direct and honest with you.” I smiled in a way that I hoped looked sincere. "You're quite the centre of the goblin community and feel you deserve to have your real story told; to human, goblin, and dwarf. A goblin like you deserves to have his voice heard, his story told -"
He waved a long-fingered hand impatiently, meeting my salad of words with a wide grin and so distracted was I that I forgot not to flinch, which made him smile even wider. It reminded me of that fish I’d seen vids of, the one that lives really deep down on Gaia and has a light on its head that it waves about to attract prey. I looked belatedly into Leggie’s eyes and saw not only calculation there but also disappointment.
“Two fings I’ll tell yet fer free, young Cassander,” he sighed, my lips sealed together in surprise that he knew my name. “Ya wrote down fings mebbe yer weren't s'posed to write an' ye upset folk. Now, to my mind, them people needs a bit a' upsettin'. 'Fact they needs a lot more than that but you, yeh wee eejit, has got yersel' inter a bind a' sorts, ain't ya?” He sniffed and picked up a wooden skewer from the table in front of him, using it to spear a colourful mushroom that was lounging in garlic and herb sauce. He chewed the mushroom, which would probably introduce me to several gods before my painful death if I tried it, not taking his eyes off mine the entire time. “Also, you’s gots a Nipper on your gaid an’ yer’ll not be shakin’ ‘im I can tell yer. I has no idea if he's here fer your protection or mine...”
I simply opened my mouth and closed it, unable to even think about what his words meant, let alone formulate a response.
“I knows a lot about people as I wants to know about; goblins, humans, an' dwarves, on Sèlene an' off a' it.” he said, putting the skewer down and taking a mouthful of dark ghâgh, grimacing appreciatively as he swallowed it. “But I keeps me lip buttoned an' doesn't try to tell all an' sundry a man's secrets, even if them secrets needs ter be told. Ya knows who Tergàris really works fer, right?”
This time I managed a nod.
“If’n I was wantin’ me name up in lights and me mukh on every corner, I has ways to achieve that meself, I don't needs to be mixin' up with one such as yerself who's gots such a big target painted on 'is back.”
I coughed and drank some wine to try and cover my reaction.
“Yeh don’t need to talk,” he said, selecting and spearing another mushroom, chewing slowly for a moment. “Yer safe from masteens an’ nippers here, none come in as I din’t want here, shiney?”
“Shiney,” I’d been around goblins enough to know the flexibility of that word and use it fairly well.
“So, ‘ave Cruisie ‘ere bring ye a bottle, an’ a flask fer me, we’s no human food, I’m afraid to say an’ ye din’t want any o’ these,” He gestured to his plate and waited while Cruisie busied himself at the table and left. “Gets yerself comf’table an’ I’s be telli’ yeh the story yeh come fer, shiney?”
I fumbled my fònogràf out of my pocket and, after several attempts, foiled by my shaking hands, managed to thumb it on. With a nod of assent from Leggie, I set the mikrofòn on the table and aimed it towards him. I them pulled out my diskìpad and stylò to make notes as we went.
(I've decided to tidy up the language of the goblin’s speech, while trying to maintain the character of the same as much as I could, cutting all the shouting and screaming off the end of the account.)
So, I’m sure you’ve had a wee notice in regard to the absence of legs on me behalf, I am sure? Good, good, that’ll save a minute of explanation, so it will. You’ve heard me sing and are clever enough to know that it’s not a made-up story I’m singing. In fact, the story is toned down to make it fit the music and not bore the listener to death. Have ye heard of Boladolc’s Privateers anywhere ‘ceptin the song? Not many have but not ta worry, I’m the last of ‘em as ye might know, the only survivor of the disaster and betrayal that cost me me legs.
Who’s Boladolc? Who was he more like coz hims a dead one now. Let me tell yeh about him, he was a pirate but o’ the best kind, a proper privateer, none of the senseless slaughter and killin’ his kind were known for practising during the normal course o’ their piracy. Honourable, he was, like his kin is said to be, but in a deeper, inside kind of way, in opposite a kind of way to them as he was born amongst, out there in a big ship roaming the galàksia…
What? What, what?? Why does ye keep interrupting me, I’s trying to build me tension and suchlike all shiny and smooth here! Eh? Course Boladolc wasn’t a goblin, ye dense eejit! He was a Ghorka!
Eh, that surprises ye din’t it? All ye humans has heard about them Ghorkai and youse is afraid of them as is right an’ shiny smooth. But just because someone is a nasty-smelling, ugly big monster wiv scales and claws doesn’t mean him’s a bad person, right? OK, it often does but not always.
See, this is where you humans could learn a lot from us goblins. Youse likes to put things in boxes an’ not think that stuff doesn’t change. Youse is inflexible and finks too much in absolutes is what youse do, wanting everythin’ to make sense by yer own standards. Goblins is little slieves and can not be trusted, they’s ugly little nasties and has no education an’ all that. Admit it, yer shiny coz I knows it ain’t your fault you was brought up stupid. Youse needs a goblin’s outlook, we’s good at fixin’ things because we’s not assuming we knows why they works. We take stuff apart to see how it works an’ then try to put it back together so’s it continues to work, only we likes to see if we can’t make it work better while we puts it back together! Teaches ya patience an’ a wider unnerstandin’ that does, so it does. Dwarves unnerstand, that’s why we likes to live an’ work wiv them.
Youse humans like dwarves and treat ‘em wi’ respect coz theys can be choppin’ yeh in half if youse don’t but goblins is weak and scratchy so’s youse ain’t scared of us, meanin’ youse can treat us like a smudge a’ toùl yeh found on ya boot. Ghorkai ain’t like that either, they’s practical and unnerstanding. “Youse wants to be pirate?” they asks. “Yassar, Mr. Ghorka, sah!” we answers. “Shiny! On yers comes then.”
So, keep yer mind open, like, fink like a goblin.
We’d bin out in the kòsmos, young goblins full a’ spook and ready fer adventure only to find out that the stories miss out the most important bits; that adventure doesn’t jus’ show up like you wants it to an’ dangerous in’t always fun. Boredom too, them songs an’ stories never speaks about that.
We was on Shâr Barûk, that big station floating around in the orbit of some nameless planet out in the Telbassion system an’ had been for five long years. We was skint and we was restless, wantin’ to come back home but not havin’ enuf gair to do it.
So, as to be cuttin’ a long story short, we was at a loose end when we sees this Ghorka, big an strong as they are but not dressed like they normally does, all in armour wiv swords an’ guns. This fella was dressed like a pirate, as near an can be to how’s I am only he had legs an wore flowing trousers and nice leather boots on ‘em. He had a hat like I does an’ a patch over one eye although, durin’ the course o’ the night, which eye that was kept changing. Him comes to us and asks out straight,
“Youse gobs needs work, right?” says he.
“We does, shiny true,” says I, elected spokesgob I don’t know how.
“I has work for those as wants to work hard,” says he
“We din’t wants to be pirates and do killin’ for no Ghorkai murderers.” Snapped back I
“Nor I,” says him, all mysterious like, “Tired a’ that skat am I”
All calm like, he parks the loùf at our table and starts talkin’. We listens. He talks some more. We listens harder. We likes what we hears and call for some ghâgh, the good stuff that’s been filtered at least once an’ had the bits picked out, to celebrate. He made us the promise I’s always singin’ about;
“Us he told we’d sail the stars for Amareita gold, we’d fire no gun. Shed no tears. Join up with Boladolc’s Privateers!”
T’was us named him Boladolc for his true name never did he tell us, though I was learning it later.
Indeed we did sail the stars on an auld an’ worn out hulk of a jigger that kept us inside by the pure grace o’ whatever gods paid us mind, we salvaged mostly, engaged in a bit of what Boladolc called “gennelman’s piracy” or privateering, we indeed did shoot almost no guns, we jus’ threatened an awful lot, relievin’ many a nervous moon jumper o’ extra cargo ‘im din’t need no more. We did a’right enough, so we did. Our gripey tub did us well, we was a’ways good fer ghâgh and had plenty of scratch ter spend when we hit dirtside once a while. T’was a joyous an’ happy life we ‘ad but, as na’ritive causality be as inescapable as a misfiring magnetar, it wasnae ta last. Why is it tha’ always happens, like? Plain sailing and more ghâgh than ye can drink one day, wormy biscuits an’ drinkin’ yer own foùro the next? See, we was most us three sheets ter the wind on good ghâgh in celebration o’ a pertik-you-lairy good haul on the auld Banderskat route. Union affiliated hauler takin’ baubles back ter the ‘Igh Prefect ‘im very self so them terrified spacers tole us. We felt that stealin’ from that very king o’ thieves made us the good guys, aye? So’s we et ‘is ‘igh Prefectnesses vittals, drank ‘is fine uisge an’ made usselves sick maggin’ ‘is mistyi. We sang many a good chanty, we danced an’ played pipes an’ drum, we fiddled, an’ farted, an’ filibustered them vittals like our throats was cut. Little did we realise that, fer most of us, that metty-four would be of a more lit’ral nature soon enough.
Yeh like me four shadows, lad? ‘Ave some of our mistyi tha’ young Cruisie be bringin’ over now. I fink it’s safe fer yer kind ter magg. Tis not fatal anyway…..har har….lay back an enjoy yasel’, I’s a needin’ ter drain th’ dâerc…