As the group neared the little taverna, Private Rodriguez ran up to the Captain and saluted. “Sir, Doc says you need to see him soonest. The prisoner’s awake.”
Lewis nodded to the private and said, “Thanks, Rodriguez.” Lewis turned to the Prince, and said, “Your highness, last night we raided the southern camp. We took a prisoner, who has just now awakened.”
The Prince raised an eyebrow. “Outnumbered and surrounded, you attacked?”
Lewis smiled, “Sir, we didn’t want them getting complacent.”
The Prince laughed aloud. He turned to Duke Odo, “I like this Captain, uncle.”
“We needed intelligence, and we hoped to keep them off balance. After being pursued for a week, I saw an opportunity to strike on my own terms, and took it. Every one we took out is one less we would face on the wall, on their terms.”
“Captain Lewis, we have some experience with these goblins. Father Pietr is a scholar, and Odo and I have spent our lives fighting them. I think we should like to see your prisoner as well.”
“Sir, there’s nothing I’d like better. What we know about our enemy would about fill a teacup, and that’s not a position we like to be in,” Lewis said.
Duke Odo had been examining the village. He looked back toward Lewis and said through the translators, “No one does, captain. I looked at the demons we slew in the valley. These demons are different from those we have fought at home. Very like, but not the same.”
“Demons?” Lewis asked.
Burhan answered, “Captain, I know you have been calling them goblins. But Father Pietr uses a word which means demon.” He turned and rattled off a long string of Arabic at the monk.
Father Pietr’s reply went on for a little while. Burhan relayed, “Thomas, when we first came to the Kingdom, in the other world, we thought we were fighting demons. Among the common folk of that time, the name for them was ‘shedim,’ a kind of unclean spirit. We still call them that, though we know that they are mortal. They can be killed, as you have seen. They have minds and souls. Souls that have been won to Christ, though not so many as we would like. Yet they are unlike men. They are stronger, for the most part, and faster. Some would say they are not so intelligent as men, nor as learned. Certainly they are prone to violence beyond what is usual even with man, fallen from grace as he is.”
“Indeed, Thomas. They are fallen creatures, like us. For long, they knew much more of the mysteries than we. We have surpassed them, I think I can say without being prideful. But they breed like rabbits. And they are far harder to kill.”
Three doors down Fagan, their Navy corpsman, had set up shop in an abandoned residence. He looked up as Lewis entered the room. “Captain.”
“Doc. Where are we?”
HM1 Fagan started to speak, and stopped. A pair each of knights, monks and priests was not what he expected to see follow his captain into the room. He opened his mouth and closed it once more.
“Start with our wounded,” Lewis ordered.
“Sir. I’ve released most of our wounded to limited duty. Avery and Singer are in bad shape; they need real doctors.” Fagan gestured to the back room. “Unless we can get Avery to a hospital, he’s … well, he’s in a bad way. Taylor and Post are hurting, but they just need time to heal. Those goblin choppers, sir, they’re better for wounds than an AK. Clean cuts are nowhere near as bad as the tissue damage from shell fragments and bullets. If it doesn’t kill you outright….”
“Doc, we’re not getting any medevac. Do what you can for them and I’ll check in on them later. What’s the situation with our guest?”
“Captain, he’s awake and conscious. I’ve given him food and water but he’s barely touched it. He’s still restrained, obviously. If it were one of us who took a hit to the head like that he’d probably still be nauseated and still have a murderous headache. From what I see, I think that’s exactly what he’s feeling. His nose is swollen up pretty bad and probably broken. Not much I can do past just bandaging.”
Lewis could hear Burhan and Father Pietr murmuring tranlations behind him.
“One other thing, captain.” Fagan paused, his mousy features screwed up in a frown. He looked past Lewis to the crusaders behind him. “Sir, he’s no alien.”
Lewis waited. “Would you like to expand on that, Doc?”
“Sir, I don’t have a lab here. No x-rays, no CAT scans or anything. But while he was out, I looked him over pretty good. He looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down; but he’s not, he’s not… alien. Captain, his hands have the same bones that we have. All the parts are in the right places. He’s too much like us. If he really came from another world he’d look like the aliens from Alien, not like the aliens from Star Trek.”
Lewis pointed a thumb at the crusaders. “Doc, these men tell us they were originally from here. They left Earth centuries ago. They say there’s a door between worlds, they call it the veil. They went away through the veil, and that’s how they got back. Same as the goblins.”
“What, you mean maybe the goblins are from here, too?” the Corpsman asked.
“I’m sure I don’t know, doc. But if crusaders could find a home… elsewhere… couldn’t some Cro-Magnon man, or Neanderthal? Maybe they’ve just been somewhere else for a long time. A very long time.”
Lewis watched Fagan’s face. Surprise, yes, but he could see the confirmation. This fit with what Fagan had learned from his own examination.
“Ah, yeah. I guess it stands to reason, Captain. I mean, look at say, a Pygmy from Africa and a Norwegian or something. Skin color, height, facial features; all different. But still human. But they didn’t get that way on Earth. How long ago did this guy’s ancestors last see ours? Ten thousand years ago? A hundred?”
“We don’t know. Probably won’t, ever. Not that it will stop Angelo and Coleman from arguing about it 24/7. What else have you figured out?”
“He speaks. Not any language I’ve ever heard. Not even really anything that sounds remotely like any language I’ve ever heard. He’s getting more alert as he recovers, but since I can’t talk to him or him to me, that doesn’t do us much good.”
“Then let’s take a look at him,” Lewis said.
Fagan walked toward the side room of the house where an armed sentry stood guard outside the door. Through a blanket that pretended to be a door was what had once been a bedroom. The room had been cleared of all furnishings save the bed, and on it sat their prisoner with his wrists and ankles securely zip-tied.
The makeshift brig was was fairly large. The sun shown in through the window, a pillar of light landing on the foot of the bed. Its brightness cast the rest of the room into shadow. Lewis could see lighter spots on the wall where the furniture had once stood. The room was soon crowded as the Prince and Duke Odo, Father Pietr and Burhan followed Lewis in. Evans and the rest of the party waited outside in the main room.
Lewis had been too busy to even look in on their prisoner. It still wasn’t even a day since they’d taken him. His first good look at a goblin was… interesting. Up until now, all he’d seen were snapshot glimpses of snarling faces; faces usually half or more hidden by armor. Seeing eyes shadowed by helmets across the sights of his rifle or at the end of the sword didn’t give you much of a clear picture, he realized. Most of the dead ones had had their faces severely remodeled seeing as the only way they’d been able to kill most of them was with a head shot.
The face of this goblin was less feral, less savage at repose. His nose was a nightmare, swollen and misshapen thanks to the stock of Arp’s M4. His skin was dark, but not like any shade he’d ever seen before. Taylor had had deep black skin, as dark as you ever see on an African-American. The goblin’s skin was odd, somehow. The black had an almost grayish undertone, like it was a black and white picture of Taylor, instead of the real thing.
His face was ugly, even discounting the broken nose. He had a brow ridge. Maybe the Neanderthals did get out of Europe before homo sap did for them. And maybe our ancestors should have been more thorough, Lewis thought. The goblin’s features were coarse and broad. He didn’t look African, Asian, or European. Just completely different in every detail while still being recognizably human. Fagan’s right, Lewis thought. He’s a Star Trek alien. A Klingon.
Fagan piped up, “Does the Geneva convention apply to Goblins from another dimension?”
The goblin looked up. His eyes were grey and a little bloodshot.
“I don’t think they’ve signed the Geneva Accords. Are they people? Legally? Don’t know that either. Don’t care. He’s a prisoner, and we have procedures for dealing with prisoners. We’ll wrap him up in a bow and pass him up the chain. How can we interrogate him anyway if we don’t have a common language?”
“I’m sure the Pentagon has interrogators who know the dark speech of Mordor, Captain.”
“Well, if they do then it’s still their problem. I don’t think we’re going to learn anything more by staring at him.”
“Captain Lewis?” asked Father Pietr. He pointed at the goblin and said, “May I speak with him?”
“Be my guest, Father,” Lewis said, and nodded. The priestmonk didn’t wait for the translation. He turned to the prisoner and spoke several short sentences. Not a word of it made any sense to Lewis, of course, but he thought that it sounded like they could be different languages. Well, makes sense, I suppose. You try all the languages you know.
The goblin made no response to any of them. Lewis didn’t see the slightest hint of comprehension, either.
Father Pietr raised his hands in surrender and shook his head. “Captain, I speak three goblin languages well, and know a little of two more. There is no understanding, here. Not for any of them.”
“This is not surprising. Duke Odo mentioned that these goblins were different than the ones we have known in our kingdom. Their appearance is the same. They are as alike as you and I, captain. But as the duke has said, their armor and weapons are of different styles and construction. It therefore follows that they should also have different languages.
“We will not gain any wisdom from this one. Given time, I could learn his language.”
“But we don’t have that time. At least not now.” the Prince interjected.
“The prince is right in this. The Archimandrite John has searched and found the presence of darkness here, and it is pressing on him. Soon enough, we will all feel it.”
Okay, that sounded creepy, Lewis thought. “Does Father John know how close this darkness is?”
“As close as your heart, captain, always. But you mean the enemy you can see and fight. That enemy is far enough away for now. But it knows that we are here. Father John fights to keep our purposes unclear to our enemies.”
Okay, that’s even creepier. “Thank you, Father. Prince Raimond?”
“Thomas, if Father Pietr can learn nothing from your prisoner, then nothing can be learned. Have him executed, so that he can do no more harm.”
“Sir, ah, that’s not our custom.”
The Prince looked perplexed. Then slightly angry. “You would torture him?”
Oh, crap, I can’t get into this. “No, no, I’m saying we won’t kill him. We have rules for the treatment of prisoners of war. He may face trial later, but I won’t kill him in cold blood.”
The Prince shrugged. “As you will, Thomas. But be wary of him.”
Lewis turned to Fagan. “Keep him comfortable. Make sure he has water and food. Make arrangements with Pethoukis when he gets back. He’ll need a place in the convoy.”
Lewis turned as he left the room. “And see if you can figure out what his name is.”
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Continue on to Chapter Eleven