Today I'm pleased to feature a fun fantasy novel by author Arthur Daigle. This is Book 2 in the series; click here to read his hilarious Realm Explorers post about Book 1!
We're rich! Run and Hide!
Will Bradshaw is still stuck being King of the Goblins, but there's a new threat to him and his friends. He's just learned that the Bottle of Hope is hidden somewhere in his kingdom. The bottle can heal any injury or illness, a prize so great that adventurers, treasure hunters and thieves are flooding into the kingdom to steal it. Even worse, a force of unspeakable evil is after the Bottle of Hope and seeks to destroy it.
Facing this threat is going to take intelligence, courage and strength, qualities that goblins are short on. But Will has already proven that his goblins are better than anyone gave them credit for. With help from greedy witches, helpful monsters and the Bottle of Hope, Will is determined to lead them to victory again.
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A highwayman waited patiently next to a dirt road while reading a copy of Banditry for Beginners, An Introduction to Wealth Extraction (a best seller for evildoers new to the trade). He was tall and thin, wearing threadbare clothing and a cloak, and was so dirty from weeks without bathing that the smell coming off him wilted flowers and panicked birds. It was early morning and he’d been hiding behind an old oak tree for hours waiting for a victim to pass by, blissfully unaware of the humiliating defeat he was about to receive.
It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been beaten. Being so far away from a settlement wasn’t a good place to find victims, but a rival gang of thieves had pushed him away from the nearest city. A very determined Girl Scout drove him even further away. He’d also been chased five miles by a rabid groundhog, an event that was the source of recurring nightmares. But that happened weeks ago, and he had a good feeling about his chances here.
The highwayman’s patience was rewarded when a young man walked down the road. The man had brown hair and gray eyes, and wore a green shirt, black vest, black pants, black gloves with green fingers, a black hat with a green ribbon sewn in the base, and a cape, black on the outside and green on the inside. His clothes weren’t the height of fashion, but they were in good condition. The highwayman smiled. Anyone dressed well had money.
Waiting until the young man was close enough to touch, the highwayman leapt out from behind the tree. With a triumphant yell he reached into his grubby cloak, drawing out a battered long sword with one hand and a dagger with the other. Pointing the sword at his victim’s chest, he shouted, “Hands in the air!”
To the highwayman’s surprise, the man seemed more amused than frightened. “Hi there, William Bradshaw, King of the Goblins. And who are you?”
The highwayman stared at him, dumbfounded. “What are you doing?”
“Introducing myself,” his victim replied casually.
The highwayman put his dagger away and took out his book from behind the tree. “You’re supposed to try to run away or hand over your money when you meet a highwayman. It says so in chapter two, right after the part about selecting a good ambush site and not being eaten by wildlife.”
Will pointed a finger at his attacker. “You’re a highwayman?”
“Yes, and a dangerous one at that!”
Still smiling, Will said, “This is a bit of good luck. Do you have something to write on?”
Confused, the highwayman said, “Well, there are margins in the book. It says you can use those for taking notes.”
“That should do,” Will said. “I’ve been living in these parts for a few months, and the road conditions are terrible. There are wagon ruts deep enough you could lose a cow in them, and the potholes are even worse if you can believe that.”
Puzzled, the highwayman asked, “Potholes?”
Will nodded. “I know Ket Kingdom is strapped for cash, but if the roads are in bad shape then farmers and merchants can’t get to market, and that’s going to cut down on tax revenue. Plus there’s road kill everywhere and nobody’s picking it up. That’s a nasty job, believe me, I know, but it has to be done.”
The highwayman waved his book. “I don’t think you understand. I’m a highwayman.”
“You already said that.”
“That doesn’t mean I work for the highway department.” The highwayman held up his book and explained, “A highwayman is someone who robs people as they go from one place to another. I am, in fact, robbing you.”
“You’re a robber?” Will asked.
“Yes,” the highwayman explained patiently, “I am a robber.”
Will scratched his head. He glanced at the tall grass along the road and saw shapes moving through it. Here and there a head peeked up and a small, goofy looking face stared at the highwayman. Will wanted to keep the highwayman’s attention on him, so he asked, “What’s it like?”
“Oh, it’s grand! There are plenty of advancement opportunities, you get lots of fresh air, travel to new places, and you get to meet the most interesting people and see what’s in their pockets. Speaking of which, empty them out.”
Will did as ordered. The contents of his pockets included a bottle cap, a handkerchief, a handful of lint and a brochure for Eddy’s All You Can Eat Rib Roast Restaurant. The highwayman looked at the meager offering and gave Will a suspicious glare. “You’re joking. That can’t be all you have.”
“Sad but true,” Will replied.
“You said you were a king!”
“Yes,” Will said slowly. “I’m the King of the Goblins. I’d like you to think about that. Do goblins generally have anything worth taking?”
The highwayman rubbed his chin. “Well, no, but you being a king I was hoping for something better than the shiny rocks you’ll find in a goblin’s pockets.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that’s not the case,” Will said. “The kingdom is flat broke. The only reason we’re not in debt is the fact that nobody was crazy enough to lend us money in the first place. You can have the lint if you want.”
“No, you don’t get much for lint.” The highwayman was stymied. He had weapons and a victim, but no loot. This didn’t come up in the book, or at least the parts he’d read. He wished he’d bought the advanced burglary books or finished the one he had. Then he saw something shiny hanging from Will’s belt. A scepter! “All right, I’ll take your scepter. Hand it over.”
“This?” Will looked at his bronze scepter set with fire opals, a prize he had no intention of losing. He glanced around and saw more shapes drift through the grass. They weren’t very big, but there were a lot of them and they were all moving toward Will and his attacker. They’d need a few seconds to get into place. He had to stall the highwayman for a bit longer. “You do realize this is a fire scepter, right? I can turn it on pretty fast, and turn you into 180 pounds of well done steak.”
“You can? Oh, it’s magic! Yes, I heard about those, very good resale value. Uh, let’s see…I’ve got it! You don’t move at all, and I’ll take the scepter from you and won’t stab you. Sound fair?”
“Now that you mention it, no,” Will said. “You’re sure you want to do this? Robbing a king is a bad career move.”
The highwayman laughed. “You said it yourself, you’re the King of the Goblins. Those dirty little things aren’t much of a threat.”
“If there’s only one of them then you’re right, they’re normally not a threat,” Will conceded. “But they do have two things going for them.”
Curious, the highwayman asked, “What’s that?”
“They’re very quiet when they want to be,” Will said as a mob of thirty goblins dressed in rags or miniature WW I German infantry uniforms poured out of the tall grass and ran at the highwayman. “And there’s never only one goblin.”