There was a moment’s pause before the hobgoblins panicked and ran for the edges of the forest, hoping to escape the terrible curse that Ismay was threatening to loose on them – the one that he didn’t have. Thank goodness they fell for the bluff, he thought, keeping his cross raised in silence until he couldn’t see any trace of the disreputable creatures any longer.
At that moment, Clast turned to him and started to stagger forward, grimacing more with each step. Father Ismay met him as quickly as he could. “Well done, Father,” Clast told him. “I was worried that you’d admit there was nothing further you could do, since we hadn’t rehearsed that bit of trickery before.”
“I almost did,” Ismay admitted. “Until I saw what the only solution to the situation was. How badly hurt are you? I see that slice on your arm, and you have clearly taken another hurt.”
“The hobgoblin clubs have broken a few of my ribs, I’m afraid,” Clast told him. “But don’t worry about me – the captives are too close to the fire. We need to untie them as soon as possible.”
Ismay looked over at the hobgoblin’s cooking fire, still burning hot, and the trussed bundles sitting next to it, and his throat tightened at the thought that those bundles were two of his parishioners. “I’ll take care of that. Give me your blade.”
“My axe won’t be much for this, but two of the enemy that I felled had knives.” Clast gestured to the dead body of a hobgoblin. Ismay rushed over towards it, and picked up the knife that lay near its hand – the bronze was covered with Clast’s dried blood, and there was a coating of dust sticking to the blood on one side, but the edge was still sharp enough to do for cutting rope.
The time from that moment until full dark set in around the hobgoblin camp was blurry for Ismay – freeing the captives, making sure that they were okay, and using the healing gifts that Birgit had entrusted him with for the sake of the others, especially Clast’s battle wounds. The Millers had also taken some hurt during their days with the hobgoblins, unsurprisingly.
“So, what is next for us?” John Miller asked. “Do we stay here all night?”
Struck by the question himself, Ismay turned to Clast, and the wandering errant took only a moment more to decide. “No – there may be some dangers from making our way back to town through the forest in the dark, but the hobs might come back to their camp before dawn, and I don’t like our chances if they figure out that Ismay doesn’t have a great and horrible curse waiting for them. Though they have better night-vision than we do, there should yet be some torches around the camp – we can ignite them in the campfire and have lights to cast upon the way our feet must go, eh?”
And that was the way it went. Tabitha Miller got her foot stuck in the hole of a digging vermin halfway back to town, and it was about five minutes before the menfolk were able to get her free. John ended up digging the hole up wider with his bare hands. But that was all the excitement of their return trip, and before midnight they had returned the Millers to their children at the house of their foster parents. Clast and Ismay stood aside together and watched the happy reunion.
“I’ll be traveling on after a day and night, father,” Clast told him. “There’s an ogre up by the path to Northton demanding tolls of wine and jewels to leave passersby unmolested. Dare I to hope that you might come along to help again?”
Ismay considered that. “I’m afraid not. It’s great that you will go wherever you’re needed, to help the people against such monsters, but that’s not my path yet. But see me tomorrow night, before you leave town, yes? If Birgit allows, I may have some gifts I can bestow upon you before you leave.”
“That would be a great kindness, Father,” Clast agreed. “And your own path?”
“I’m not sure,” Ismay said slowly. “I shall go back to preaching to my congregation in the usual manner – but if any here in my home town need aid of a more direct nature, then I hope next time I will not need a stranger to come and tell me so.”
“So will you challenge the creatures of evil yourself?”
“I may not need to – there are a few other brave souls in the area, that I may be able to recruit when they are needed. Good luck, Clast.”
“Best of luck yourself, father,” the strong errant said, bowing his head. “And God bless you.”