(The Stink-hole Expedition)
Skruff ran around all excited calling the names of his captains out into the echoes of the cave. Chuck, Shkowtz, Bizzard, Sneaff, Bebo, Bobo, Bob…” He stopped short and remembered that Bob was gone and he remembered that the last time he saw Bob he yelled at him, and he sniffed back tears. Soon, however, he remembered they had a new important job and resumed calling and running. “Chuck, Shkowtz, Sneaff, Bizzard…” Before long all the captains came running from different directions.
“Wassa big deal, Gener’l,” asked Bizzard.
“Hoo boy, lots of exciting stuff. Just talked to the wizard.” At this the others began looking all over the cave, but saw no wizard. Sneaff and Bizzard looked at each other and shrugged.
“We got a new job,” Skruff continued, “Important too.” All the captains began to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. “Okay, listen up. We gotta find stinky holes in the ground. The wizard said if we can find the right holes we can get into the king’s castle. Boy, won’t that be fun?” They all nodded. “He wants us to try. If we can find them stinky holes, we can crawl up through them and make big mischief for the bad guys. Gotta watch out though. A lots of monsters around now. Not only trulls, but gobbles too. We don’t want to be heroes do we?” They all shook their heads, thinking of Bob.
“So what do we do when we get inside?” asked Bebo.
Skruff shrugged and pushed out his lower lip. “Don’t know yet. Wizard’s gonna tell me when we get inside. Okay, let’s go.” Skruff started to goose-step out of the cave.
“Wait,” said Sneaff. The captains all halted. “Shouldn’t we bring more nissas with us? If we take more guys we’ll have a better chance to find a stinky hole.”
Skruff laughed and slapped his knee. “That’s really smart. Right you are. Hey, I should give you a promotion.”
Sneaff was elated. “I’m a general too?”
Skruff thought for a bit. Hmm, nope. There can only be one general. Let’s see…” He tapped his foot and pulled at his fuzzy little beard. Finally, “I know, you can be a…doctor.”
Sneaff was absolutely elated. He thumbed his little suspenders and strutted about saying, “Doctor Sneaff. I like that.” From all the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’, apparently all the others liked it too.
“Okay, listen up.” Skruff said. “Go run about and get a bunch of others and meet back here in not too many minutes.” Several hours later there was a sizable group gathered. They marched single file out into the night. Not bothering to apprise any of the members of the Nissarmy, that weren’t part of the ‘stinkhole expedition’, as it had come to be known, after a day or two they began to wonder where everybody had gone. They soon shrugged their shoulders and forgot the issue completely.
The ‘stinkhole expedition’ marched night and day. Soon the crags and hills at the lowest eastern end of the foothills near Dundermann Pass were crawling with nissas sniffing and probing recesses that only nissas would recognize, let alone, be able to explore. They located springs and running rivulets but none of them emanated from holes and none stank.
What constituted a stink to a nissa was something that Arnaald had not taken into consideration when describing the characteristics of the places they should be looking for. He did mention that they would be in low-lying areas and probably well hidden. Knowing the indomitable ingenuity of these remarkable little people, he trusted to fate for any success that might be achieved from their efforts.
As it happened, even though some might be fond of the subtle and highly questionable tang of arsenic, poop and pee, regardless of the source, qualified as ‘stink’ to a nissa.
They’d been in the area for a few days and had found nothing. They were getting bored and lazy and careless. Some of them had taken to lying down wherever the mood struck them and taking naps. Skruff had warned them to keep vigilant and above all, ‘look out for gobbles and such’. Many of their number had undertaken trips to poison water sources but had never, except for at extreme distances, seen a trull, let alone, a goblin. So when a few dozing nissas were startled awake by a foraging goblin, they shrieked in terror drawing his immediate notice. Skuff and the others also heard and came running. Before long, there were eighty some nissas on the scene to watch the horror play out.
The goblin reacted instantly, pouncing on a married couple called Doozer and Ladelia Klump that were snuggled up together in the moss. When Skruff’s group reached the bluff overlooking the mossy grotto, the goblin, an enormous being of powerfully muscled stature, bristling with patchy, wiry hair and apelike countenance stood gripping one hapless nissa in each claw. Without hesitation, the monster opened its maw wide and in one gulp devoured first Doozer, and then Ladelia. Ladelia barely had time to gasp and she was gone.
Skruff and his compatriots reacted without a hitch. Diving from the ledge, every nissa that had a blade or hatchet and even many who didn’t, dove off the ledge and onto the goblin, slashing, hacking and biting the beast until it lay bleeding to death and twitching on the floor of the grotto. It was hamstrung, gutted, stabbed and bitten in a hundred places. The nissas fell about, panting and sweating. They were horrified at what they’d just witnessed and just as horrified by their own reaction to it.
Skruff wiped brow and cleaned his blade on the moss and then sat down and wept. The others joined him. One by one they sat or lay down and sobbed. At that moment their innocence received a profound blow. But nissas are resilient little beings and soon Skruff picked himself up and said, “Okay, everybody up and listen good. We gotta find what the wizard wants and fast. Can’t have no more of these gobbles eating us. Come, up, up, everybody up now, darn it!” Nissas almost never used expletives so they knew he meant business.
As soon as Skruff had them whipped into shape and focused again, the Nissarmy renewed their search with a determination historically unprecedented for nissas. Each and every one of them knew now the seriousness of the task they undertook. The search led them up hills and down, through thickets and briar patches and within a few days they found themselves just northwest of Krawnholde, deep in a dense forest at an ancient quarry that had been use to mine much of the stone for the keep. The vegetation leading to and surrounding the pit was so thick that Sneaff, the first to find it, almost toppled over the edge into stagnant water in the pit. Only Glaxo, quickly grabbing his suspenders, prevented it.
Soon they all lined the edge of the quarry peering down at the surface of the murky water. Skruff said, “ Who has the rope?” A young nissa named Cloone came forth with a rope and said, “Prent and Gonadd have ropes too.” He turned and called for them. They soon emerged from the underbrush removing their ropes from over their shoulders.
“Look for a hole,” said Skruff. They fanned out and began looking. Soon Sneaf called out, “Down there. There’s a hole at the bottom.”
Sure enough, at the water level, there was a small half submerged hole. Ordinarily it would have been beneath the waterline but the weather had been unusually dry this season. This was a boon for the forces preparing for war and now it proved a boon to the Nissarmy as well. Skruff considered just climbing down without the assist of a rope but the walls were leaking seepage and covered with moss so he decided to take no chances. They affixed the rope to a tree and discovered that the distance to the bottom was so great that they would need all three lengths.
Sneaff was excited beyond rationality. He was sure they’d found what they were searching for. “Let me go first,” he begged.
“Sure,” said Skruff. “Have at it.”
Sneaff gripped the rope, scrambled over the edge and slid down the distance to the hole. From above the hole, because of the angle they could not see Sneaff so the walked a little way around the perimeter until they could see him dangling over the hole and spinning on the twisting end of the rope.
“Does it stink?” Skruff called down.
“Nope”, came the answer.
“Oh boogers!” Skruff stumped his foot and pouted. He’d thought for sure they’d found the right place.
“Um, you sent Sneaff.” Said Bebo.
“I know that.” Said Skruff, annoyed.
“Sneaff can’t smell anything.”
Skruff immediately brightened up. “Hey! Right. Okay, you wanna go down and see if it stinks?”
“Yep.” Bebo ran over to the rope and scrambled down. When he dangled just above Sneaff he yelled, “Yep, we’re in luck. It stinks real good.”
Skruff selected a team of twelve nissas, all whom carried blades or hatchets and sent the rest back to the cave saying, “Go back now and be safe. We’re gonna explore and maybe soon the wizard will talk to me. Go now, shoo!” They all ran off into the underbrush and Skruff and his recruits climbed down the rope until they all dangled above the hole. “Okay,” he yelled. “Everybody into the hole.”
They could only fit one at a time into the noisome aperture as it was only wide enough for a nissa to go on all fours. It stunk something awful but they were so excited to see where it led that they resigned themselves to putting up with it. After the first hundred feet they went totally by feel because the tunnel curved slightly upward and before long the light had faded completely. Yet, like a line of ants, they crept relentlessly forward and gradually upward. When they got tired, they slept. Awakening in total darkness, undaunted, they felt their way forward and trekked on.
For two full days they inched forward in soggy, stinking and close environs that would have driven any other race mad and the only emotion it elicited from the nissas, was boredom. But this was serving to make them cranky so when they, at last, saw light ahead they scrabbled forward with renewed vigor. At last they came to a much wider and taller area where they could finally stand. They all stretched and shook and amazingly, two days of abominable filth just shed away. The chamber they were now in ran for hundreds of yards, mostly in darkened shadow interspersed with shafts of light streaming down from above. Skruff led the group forward turning with his finger over his lips in a signal to be extra quiet and whispered, “Shh. This must be the gulley the wizard was talking about. C’mon.”
They crept forward to the first area where light poured through. They where too short to reach the iron grates that covered the holes, but by standing on shoulders, some of the group where able to peek over the edge. What they saw was hundreds of goblins milling about and performing various mundane tasks. They climbed down and took turns giving everyone a look. When they’d all seen what they were up against, Bobo finally asked, “So…now what?”
“I guess we wait to hear from the wizard.” Said Skruff.
“Where is he?” asked Glaxo.
“He’s inside my head.”
Most of the nissas now thought maybe they were following a cuckoo. Skruff sensed this and rather than try to explain something that he wasn’t sure he understood himself, he decided to put them to work. “Meanwhile,” he said, “we gotta find some food. Fan out and explore, but be very, very careful. Don’t get caught. Go full sneak-foot.” They took off in different directions and were happy to be busy.