An autumn wind rustled the moon drenched leaves above as a lanky figure stepped from the shelter of the tree line. Tall only by goblin standards, he stood a full head higher than any of the other raiders which had amassed in a small band among the tree trunks. His dented steel helm glinted in the silvery light as he peered over the spread of farmland below. Lifting his flattened, scarred nose to the breeze, the helmed goblin sniffed the air.
“What do you smell, Urlfar,” asked another goblin stepping clear of the others. This one had no helm but wore an overlarge tunic of boiled leather armored by heavy brass rings. Tucked into his belt, the stiff leather bulged out making him look nearly as wide as he was tall.
“Easy pickings is what I smell,” replied Urlfar. The scar that ran across his nose was livid in the moonlight as a grin like an old graveyard spread across his thin lips. “Easy pickings, indeed.”
The raiders followed the helmed goblin down the grassy slopes and into the valley below. No sound but the muted slapping of feet heralded their approach. They wove through fields and splashed across the creek, its clear waters sparkling like jewels under the full moon.
As they neared the first lonely farmhouse, Urlfar led them into the tall swaying stalks of a cornfield before slowing their pace to creep through the orderly rows. His mind swirled with lusty dreams of looted silverware and pilfered jewelry, seared man-flesh and stolen hooch to wash it down. If it were not for the shade of the corn, a sheen of saliva would have shown at the corners of his grisly mouth.
Whether he was too preoccupied or simply uninterested, the helmed goblin did not pay the slightest sliver of attention to the scarecrow that stood draped over a cruciform post near the center of the field. If he had, Urlfar would have seen the scrap wood arms and legs, the threadbare tunic stuffed with straw, and the pumpkin carved with lopsided triangles for eyes and a jagged grin. Whatever the reason, Urlfar saw none of this. Instead, he paused at the post, squeezed out a squeaking puff of wind, and continued on his way.
As the raiders passed, Scarecrow stirred. The skin of his jack-o-lantern face felt tight in the frosty breeze, yet he woke not with a chill but with the somewhat puzzling realization that he was alive. Two dull points of yellow light flickered into existence inside the empty triangle sockets that were Scarecrow’s eyes. With them he gazed out upon the moonlit fields and orchards of the valley. What a dark place the world is, he thought, and leaden feeling bubbled up within him. Scarecrow had not known what he had hoped the world would be but certainly not this cold and colorless.
Gripping the post with twiggy fingers, he turned to climb down from his perch and in doing so, looked behind. He froze, transfixed with the sight of what was there. Above the horizon of the corn sea crested an island of a house. Even strips of wooden siding coated the whole thing painted in a pale color that looked a shimmering white in the moonlight. A dark roof with a steep pitch capped the whole thing but it was a window on the second story, just beneath the eaves, that held his softly glowing stare. All the other windows held only gloom but in this one glassy portal a single lamp flame danced, spilling a warm orange light over the night’s silvery grays. Beautiful, thought Scarecrow with a stillness that only awe can inspire.
The moment’s pause allowed a worming thought to wriggle its way into the hollow space behind his eyes. My creators. Perhaps they live there. Scarecrow rolled the idea around in his head, testing its strength. He looked at himself, at his construction and form. He must have had creators. How else could I have come to be if not by design? And if I have creators, that light must belong to them for how could anyone but those who brought me life hold anything so brilliant in this murky world? Perhaps that is the light of creation itself… The thoughts writhed inside his gourd and he felt giddy for a moment, nearly losing his grip on the post.
Scarecrow shook his head as if to clear it. He was getting ahead of himself. Answers would come once he made the pilgrimage to the light. Sobered, Scarecrow climbed down his post to the soft earth below. The torn leather boots that were his feet sunk comfortably into the ground as they took his weight for the first time. He did not mark the trails of goblin feet that traced paths around him. Instead, he found an alley among the stalks and began his midnight sojourn, marveling at the newness that enveloped him.
Nearly a quarter of the way through the corn, Scarecrow had squatted down. His ambling walk had overturned a stone revealing something underneath. He watched in slack jawed wonder as a tight, segmented curl unfurled. A hundred, pointed pale legs spread out from the sky black plates that fit together to form a curving body tipped with a pair of dangerous looking mandibles. How his creators could have imagined such a fantastic creature, Scarecrow could not begin to fathom. Truly, they were beings far beyond him.
Lost in his own curiosity, Scarecrow was watching the centipede skuttle over the rolling soil in search of new shelter when the crash of broken glass and a piercing cry rent away the quiet of night. Hoots and howls in a sneering, guttural tongue sprang up from beyond the corn. Scarecrow bolted upright and listened through the wind stirred stalks. A second shriek found him, and he set off running. With all the speed his wooded gait would allow, he plowed through the field toward the screams, arms raised to protect his face from the slapping husks.
The chill wind rattled the stalks as he emerged from their boundary. A wide yard stretched out between him and the white-walled farmhouse. In the gap, three goblins danced around shouting and calling out in a husky language that Scarecrow could not understand. As he watched, one of the creatures, an especially squat goblin with greasy black braids, leaned down and tugged a fist sized stone from the earth at her feet. The goblin tossed it to herself a few times, testing the weight, and then began to spin. She spun round and round, arms stretched out and picking up speed, until finally she released the stone. It rocketed towards the house shattering one of the darkened windows with a crash. The goblin giggled, shouted something nasty sounding into the wind, and staggered dizzily for several paces before she set back to hunting for things to throw.
Scarecrow scanned the pale siding looking for the warm orange light again. The window that had held it was reduced to shards of glass stabbing out of the wooden frame. Did they destroy it? Has it gone out? It can’t be extinguished! It can’t be! His mind reeled, spinning more wildly than the goblin and threatening to veer into panic. Then he was saved. It was very faint, but an orange light rimmed the edges of the shattered glass. It’s safe. For now… Scarecrow’s relief sublimated into rage. These savages! Don’t they know what they seek to destroy? Vile enemies of the light!
His eyes flared red and he cast his gaze around for a stick, shovel, or stone. Anything that he could take up to drive these infidels from this holy land. His seething eyes fell on a sickle left next to a woven basket at the field’s edge. It was speckled with spots of rust, but the rest of the curved blade gleamed like divine justice under the silver moon. Scarecrow scooped up the reaping blade and thrust it into the air in a salute to the hidden orange light.
His leather footfalls and creaking joints were all but silent under the screen of the goblin war cries. His triangular eyes narrowed to vengeful slits and he slunk towards his first target. The squat goblin had found something worthwhile in the dirt and was bent over trying to yank it free. Scarecrow stepped behind her; his jack-o-lantern grin transformed into a pitiless scowl. She grunted and struggled with the stone. He raised his sickle high above his head. It shone with terrible purpose and the flames that were his eyes blazed bright and hot.
The heat prickled the nape of the squat goblin’s hairy neck. A fog of breath hung in front of her trembling lips as slowly she turned her head to look behind. Their eyes locked. Nightmarish rancor drenched every groove and blemish on Scarecrow’s face. He stared deep into her eyes. He watched as they grew wide and wet with understanding. Her mouth fluttered open to scream but it floundered in her throat. Then Scarecrow brought the sickle down hard into her neck.
The goblin collapsed to her back, sputtering as she tried to scream through the blood. With great care, Scarecrow placed a booted foot on her sternum and then shifted his weight to press down. The squat goblin’s eyes bulged as her hands clawed feebly at the merciless boot. Scarecrow braced himself and the tore the sickle free ripping a gouge across his victim’s throat. Blood and bile spilled thick and black on the moon wet grass as the goblin’s eyes rolled wild, searching in vain.
When the blood slowed, she went still and pale leaving Scarecrow to gaze upon his work. He peered down at the lifeless thing trying to make sense of the nagging tug in his chest. A word for what he was feeling surfaced from the depth, but he pushed it aside, refusing to give it the power of a name. Instead, he lifted his pumpkin chin to once again find the edge of orange light still glowing in the broken window. All for you, my lords. I do this for you.