Because you can’t be much more forlorn than that, can you? It was Wallie’s idea to post this. It is a little something from a larger project we are working on.
The King-Goblin was astonished. When he heard of Prince Ham’s capture, he had idealized their meeting as a clash of similar wills, the inevitable plea for mercy, and then a quick, clean beheading. What he discovered was something very different. A young elf-prince certainly, dressed not in the robes of his people but a close-cut suit and lace, and all around him the castaway children and elderly cripples of the king’s own goblin-kind. The elf stood with them, and they with the elf, as if it were not he on trial but all as one.
‘You are Prince Ham,’ said the goblin king.
‘Sir Gadfly, sir, if it please you,’ answered Ham. ‘A name of my own making.’
‘I imagined so,’ said the king. ‘What brings you here, Prince?’
‘I want to steal the heart from your Tree,’ said the elf, frankly.
‘To end the war?’
Ham was silent.
‘You are young, to fear war as you do,’ said the goblin. ‘Yet I see it in your eyes. You are afraid.’
The goblin band around the elf shivered and whispered.
‘Young as I am,’ said the elf, ‘do you want me stupid, too?’
‘Stupid,’ said the King-Goblin. ‘Nay. You are stupid. I would have you be brave if you can manage it.’
‘Right,’ said the elf. ‘Brave. Would it please you more to kill me, if I am brave?’
They had passed the clash of wills. The goblin king was disappointed despite himself.
‘It will please me to spare you,’ said the goblin, ‘if you beg for your freedom and life.’
It was a half-lie.
Ham adjusted the glasses on his nose. He couldn’t help smiling, though he really was afraid.
‘My liege, I would obey you,’ he said, ‘except that would not be brave.’
The Goblin Hall murmured. The king himself was thoughtful.
‘I like you, Elf,’ he said. ‘There is something about you like a dumb goose that defies all reason. Tell me what it is that you wear on your face. Does it help you think? Does it make you special, or give you strange thoughts? Was it supposed to help you steal the Heart?’
Ham was nonplussed.
‘What?’ he said. ‘My glasses? Help me think? No. They help me see. Without them I am blind.’
‘Ah,’ the goblin replied. ‘Good.’ He turned to the guard nearest him. ‘Take the magic lenses from him. Cut off his hands if he resists. You’—to the elf-prince—‘are too trusting. Or is it thoughtless? What now, then? Can you still see?’
Without his glasses, Ham’s balance was precarious. The goblins with him shrank back, except for large, lumpish Wart. When the elf’s seeking hands found his head, the goblin stood perfectly still. Ham hesitated, bent a little at the waist; his long trembling fingers curled on one of the goblin’s horns and tightened there. Carefully, as if he thought the goblin might push him or pull away, he stood erect.
‘This must be tested,’ said the King-Goblin. ‘One of you, strike him.’
‘What does it prove, my king?’ rumbled Wart, ‘to strike a blind boy?’
‘Much,’ said the king. ‘If he is telling the truth he will not flinch.’
One of the goblin guard had already approached. He was not so tall as Ham, but with his stick he struck the elf hard across the shoulder. Ham had cringed at his approach; he could hear the tramping feet. He braced himself for the blow, and it was hard to tell if he had seen it coming or not.
‘You are a liar,’ roared the king, ‘you are not blind!’
‘I can hear you move,’ said Ham, wincing, ‘and I can see little—a change in light and shadow.’
‘Come near my throne,’ said the king. ‘Leave him, Wart.’
‘You are playing with him like a cat with a mouse,’ said the old goblin. ‘It is unworthy of you.’
The king snarled.
‘You support an elf!’ he said. ‘Have you forgotten your people? Our war?’
‘You left me to die,’ replied the elder. ‘What loyalty do I owe you, when I am of less interest than an elf prince you can tease and torment? He may be witless, but there is an art to his witlessness that serves him well. He is hardly grown and yet he is more of a king than you.’
The Goblin Hall fell deadly silent.
Ham’s hand tightened on the old goblin’s horn. He was surprised by what Wart said, and a little dismayed. Wart was quite right; he was young; and as if he were a child again, he inclined towards the support of another voice, an older voice, with a need both anxious and entirely dependent.
The goblin king looked over the company. He saw their bandages and scrubbed scales. They all looked fresh and comfortable. He noticed the padding and bandaging on Wart’s skinny rough arm.
‘Shameful,’ the King-Goblin observed, ‘that you would rather have a nursemaid than a ruler. You do not think about the good of your kind—you think of your own comfort.’
‘No, my liege,’ said Wart. ‘We have plans of our own. Plans for weapons that would help you in this war—that we can create and perfect ourselves while your soldiers continue to march. This one, this elf—he has papers and pictures that will help us. He has shown me.’
‘Wart,’ said Ham. ‘Please.’
The goblin turned to him. His good hand, still impossibly strong, gripped the elf’s wrist.
‘It is too late,’ he said. ‘Give me the plans, Elf.’
Ham bent down on his knees. His straining eyes were full.
‘I left them in our prison,’ he said, ‘I don’t have them.’
Wart reached into the elf’s open coat. He took the crumpled papers from an inner pocket.
Ham hid his face in his hands.
‘Look what the elf has invented.’ Wart smoothed one sheet and held it for all to see. ‘A machine that can fly. It can carry armed goblins to battle. This is just one of the many ideas in his head. I wonder if his glasses don’t help him think after all.’
‘And you can construct this flying cart?’ the King-Goblin asked, uncertainly.
‘My liege,’ Wart answered, ‘he can.’
‘Spare his life, and he will do more for you than this. He is as weak as you imagine, but less stupid than you suppose.’
‘I would rather die,’ Ham gasped.
‘In that,’ growled the old goblin, ‘we will be happy to oblige. My liege—my liege, I can make him listen. I am certain that if you allow us to work together, these kits and old ones and I, Prince Ham will do whatever you please. I can promise you he will. You will, won’t you?’
‘Of what use are broken gobblings,’ said the King-Goblin, ‘in making flying machines?’
To the goblins’ surprise, Ham raised his head. The elf’s expression had changed with jarring swiftness, straight from pleading to amazement. It was an affect not unlike peeling the mask off a disguise. Several of the goblin king’s finest started back as if they were threatened.
‘Gobblings,’ said Ham with delight. ‘That is what you call them. Why, it fits perfectly—hungry, grumbly, tumbling, gobbling gobblings! What use are they? Perfect use. Their fingers are small and their teeth are sharp. They will be able to cut, fasten, and tie things where I could not reach, nor Wart either. But I need him—I need them all. I will serve you, Goblin—but only if we can serve you, together.’
Some of the little goblins had gathered close to him. Wart was struck to see how Ham seized on this chance, and was beginning to wonder if there wasn’t any goblin in the elf prince. It was certainly in his mood, which was changeable as the weather, and as unpredictable. But in this they were fighting for their lives, and he didn’t question him.