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“You ever seen Goblin's sonny?” the grizzled veteran asked, coughing over his pipe as he packed it with tobacco once again. “It ain't like the Sagas, I'll tell you that! They mostly come at night, and you don't see 'em 'til they are almost on you, 'cause they can see in the dark, you see! What you need is some of them Felixiads with you, 'cause those cat men can see in the gloaming almost as good as the greens do. Only you ain't no Felixad, and you can't see 'em coming. You hear 'em well enough, though, hammering them kettle drums like the heralds of doom, the Boom! Boom! Boom! And as the hammerin' gets closer you lose your bladder, believe me, you do!” The old man lit the pipe as the youngster titters, mockingly.
“Oh, you think it's funny do you, son? Let me tell you it ain't. Forty years I served the Emperor. Forty years man and boy, I fought bandits, I fought raiders, I fought river pirates and the odd damn fool that don't know you don't poke a sleeping dragon like the Empire with a sharp stick, lessen you want him to burn you to a crisp, but Goblins..." The old man shuddered, visibly paling as he remembered. “They are a different matter, much different. They don't think like us you see. They don't feel like us neither."
He took a few more puffs on his pipe as some of the other veterans murmured their agreement.
“You mean they have no mercy?” the youngster asked.
“I mean they have no fear!” the old man barked, “And that is far, far worse. You stand there, trembling as those damn drums get louder and louder, and you know nothing you do is going to frighten them as much as they frighten you. They are just big balls of hate and aggression. Oh yes, I said big.” The old man nodded.
“I heard they were smaller than us,” the youth protested. His protests were met with mocking laughter by the veterans as the old man started again.
“Aye? By someone as has never seen one I'll wager! They look it at first, 'cause they stoop a lot, sort of all hunched up like, but you get one to stand straight and he is as big as me, or even as Trovan over there...” He jerked his thumb at the muscular veteran with the single arm, seeing the youngster's eyes alight on the stump of Trovan's arm he smiled knowingly.
“It was a Green un' as did that to Trovan, right, Trovan?”
The muscular man nodded grimly,
“Aye, it was. They came at us out of the dark, we knew they were there, we heard em, had been hearing 'em for what seemed like half the night, those bloody drums. Then they came screaming out the darkness, stabbing and hacking. The man next to me went down afore he finished screaming, and the thing as did it came for me next.” He shuddered “I've never fought anyone as fast as him neither, nor as skilled. You see these things don't get old like we do, they don't die unless you kill 'em and they don't do much but kill things and practice how to kill things. I've killed near on three score men in battle, and not one of em was half the fighter this Goblin was. Drew me in with a faint he did, then knocked my blade aside with his, and hooked my shield down with his axe before slashing at my body. If I hadn't slipped and fallen he would have gutted me there and then! His axe was still hooked on my shield when I fell, it pulled him off balance but quick as a flash he hacked off my shield arm just above the shield with the sword in his other hand, I was helpless as a kitten, and he would have had me then if Zackon hadn't skewered 'im in the kidneys with a spear just that second. The bugger didn't die though! No, he pulled his way up Zackon's spear, right Zackon?” The old man nodded, then took up the tale again. “Aye, and all I could do was stare and piss my breaches as he got closer. He hacked off my ear. An inch further over and he would have split my skull!” The old man drew back his long hair to show the ruined mess where his ear had once been. “That snapped me back to reality, and I let go of the spear and jumped back to get the time to draw my sword. That was when he made his mistake, too angry to spot it you see. He came forward, half my spear still in him, came just in range of the tip of my blade and I split him from cods to crown! I swear, he just looked irritated as he slipped away! When dawn broke, two-thirds of us were dead, and not one of us was unscathed. I tell you, lad, you ever have the misfortune to fight Goblins, you better hope the unnamed God is watching, and that he likes you, 'cause those things are meaner than anything has any right to be."
A murmur of agreement ran around the veterans.
The young man's blood ran cold. The recruiters had told him the campaign would be an easy one.