Inside the onion-shaped building it was hot—almost stiflingly so—and the atmosphere was putrid and hazy with steam and smoke. Still, Seymour more than welcomed the relief from the biting cold of the outside world.
They were marched to the center of the cavernous room, where there was a figure bent over an immense caldron of bubbling green liquid, apparently peering into its depths. As they drew closer, Seymour could see that the figure was that of a male goblin, bigger than the rest. His face, glowing in the firelight, was young, yet there were lines upon it, and there was a certain air of graveness about him that contrasted deeply with the angry energy projected by Zveguestek and the rest of the hunting party.
But these were not the first features that caught Seymour’s attention. They were all secondary and unimportant compared to one specific detail: the goblin had antlers. They weren’t the antlers of a deer or any similar creature, but rather short, thick, twisted adornments that sprouted like miniature trees from behind his pointed ears, but they were antlers nonetheless, and Seymour de Winter had never met a two-legged mortal with antlers, horns or anything of the sort.
“Uarla, Etedstra Merset,” Zveguestek greeted the antlered goblin, bowing low. “Zvenle kon kaptiban humanetan ye merghetan.”
The so-named Uarla looked up from his caldron and surveyed them. “Zvui bena, Zveguestek. Amaklad konmoga. Podle deskanzal par ona reta—ye ete ombretan, tambina. Irégueted.”
When the goblin hunting party had all reluctantly filed out of the building, leaving their captives behind, the Uarla stepped out from behind the caldron and slowly approached the newcomers, his long, braided, beaded hair swinging like a hundred purple pendulums with each step.
“Good evening, strangers,” he intoned in flawless Murkintsenian, smiling ever so slightly at their surprise. “Yes, I speak your language, and no, I am not the only goblin who does. I am the Uarla—the Warlock, as you call it. I am to the goblins as the mage is to the humans, as the witch is to the elves. Now how, pray, do you call yourselves?”
“My name is Seymour de Winter, and I hail from Brysail,” Seymour replied. “My companions are Simon Edmund, of Carvil, and Seoc MacInnes, of Iliathor.”
“A pleasure meeting you all. And what, may I ask, brings you through the land of my people?”
“It was not our intention to trespass,” Seymour asserted. “We were obliged to flee Waelyngar by way of the forest, and we were not aware that we were in goblin territory until your people stole our horses and provisions.”
“Ah,” the warlock responded, closing his golden eyes. “A misunderstanding. I apologize on behalf of the thieves. Your horses are here in the city; I will send word to my people to refrain from slaying and consuming them, and they will be reunited with you, along with your other stolen possessions, upon your departure.”
“You are very kind, Uarla, sir.”
The Uarla shook his antlered head. “I know your mission, Seymour de Winter. I know that which pulls you to the Carvil Valley, and I do not envy you for it. It is in the interest of my people that you succeed. The Great Protector has long stood in opposition to the Parasite, and so must we.”
Seymour sighed but spoke no word.
Smiling grimly, the warlock turned back to his cauldron. “The Carvil Valley is a dangerous place in these dark days. I beseech you to stay in my city a while and regain your health before venturing over the pass.”
Seymour grimaced. “We will be expected soon in Carviliet. There is little time to spare.”
“Better late than dead,” the Uarla reasoned. “At least rest here a few days. You are all three of ill health.”
Seymour looked from Seoc to Simon and saw that the warlock was right. Both were deathly thin and pale and looked as though they wanted for nothing more than to sleep a full night in safety.
“Very well,” he conceded. “We shall stay.”
The Uarla nodded. “I shall have beds made up for you, and meals prepared. It should only take a moment.”