Rudickar watched as the scouts came riding back; short, well-armed hobgoblins mounted on fierce wolves. He tried to read their faces, but from a distance all hobgoblins just appeared to be snarling. He sat back in his seat, waiting, trying to relax.
They arrived in a hissing of breath and the growling of wolves and the smell of wet wolf again. Rudickar wrinkled his nose in distaste, swearing to himself that when they'd taken Torvecken he'd have no wolves anywhere near his palace.
"Report!" snapped Ekka, shuffling between the scouts and Rudickar.
"Get out of the way, Ekka." Rudickar punched his steward in the shoulder and was inwardly pleased to see the hob flinch before he shuffled away again. He'd taken Ekka to task over his rudeness the night before when he'd finally returned with food, and although he was limping today and nursing an arm, Ekka was much better behaved.
"There is no-one visible on the approach to Torvecken," said the lead scout. "I sent Angmak up to the gates and the city appears abandoned."
"How abandoned?" Rudickar felt a flutter of hope in his chest that there wouldn't need to be a battle after all, but he distrusted the ease with which they were reaching the city.
Angmak looked at the chief scout and started sweating. The chief scout paused, choosing his words carefully.
"Years abandoned, my King," he said slowly. "The wind cleans the streets, but the buildings by the gate are falling into ruin and are uninhabited. If there are any humans there now they have retreated into the heart of the city. There is no sign of passage in the ground outside the gates; Angmak checked for a quarter-mile either side. Perhaps this gate is just unused now."
"It's the main gate of Torvecken!" said Rudickar. "How can it possibly be unused?"
"Maybe the humans made their own gate," said Ekka and flinched again as Rudickar raised his fist.
"Then they will all die horribly for their cheek!" he shouted, his face reddening so that his head looked like a crab-apple. "I'll have them roasted alive like impertinent stewards and serve them up in a hobgoblin feast to celebrate our return to Torvecken!"
Angmak cheered, and stopped when he realised that no-one else was joining in.
"Forward!" shouted Rudickar to the army, "On to Torvecken!"