Petra’s Reach was a forsaken stretch of prairie standing at the very edge of the Church’s control. Although humanity had been able to spread since the first cathedral at Kersyrr was built four hundred years past, the Reach marked the limits of the Church’s ability to protect its followers. Beyond the wafting grasslands there were too few settlements and too many jotnar – the least of which being the goblins that had swarmed the Church’s outpost one week ago. Even if Valgard had not been given a personal motivation to come down this way, he would have come anyway in his office of Archbishop to survey the destruction and take any necessary action.
As the Archbishop and his page rounded the final curve and came out of the forest, a sight greeted them that caught both off guard. Asgeir gasped audibly, dropping to his knees and making the sign of the sword across his chest. “Your Grace,” he stammered, “how could goblins have done all of this?”
Valgard quietly made the sign of the sword himself, gloved hands brushing softly against his black tabard. He had fought the jotnur many times in the past and was no stranger to bloodshed, but the sheer scale of the desolation before them was stunning even to him. “I don’t know, Asgeir. I intend to find out. Step quickly!” Valgard spurred his horse forward with a sharp cry, Asgeir scrambling off the ground to keep up.
As they moved forward, Valgard took a calmer assessment of the damage. Spread before him over the space of fifty acres were the dead and dying. At least three parishes – a full three thousand soldiers – along with the peasants that had stood firm in their final moments were scattered throughout the grass. Survivors moved throughout the field, taking the bodies of the fallen and lining them up in their old formations. Those that saw the Archbishop moving along the road paused momentarily, kneeling and making the sign of the sword. The Archbishop nodded at each one and waved them back to their work; their task needed to be finished quickly.
It wasn’t long before Valgard came up to the main encampment. Closed tents held the wounded and weary as the priests and nuns ran quickly back and forth, frantically moving supplies and messages. Valgard slipped off his horse, heavy black shoes crushing the grass beneath him as he handed the reins to Asgeir. The page quietly nodded and moved back to the edge of the encampment as the Archbishop strode forward towards the central tent.
The priests standing guard at the tent kneeled and signed as the Archbishop approached. Waving them up, Valgard pulled back the opening of the tent and stepped inside. A huddled quartet of bishops turned from a table piled to overflowing with maps and reports; upon seeing the towering figure fill the tent’s opening, all four kneeled.
“Your Grace!” one exclaimed, a redhaired woman wearing the red and white tabard of the hospitaliers. “Forgive us our failures, Archbishop Broddrson!” She passed her hands across her chest in the sign of the sword, eyes cast downward.
“I forgive you for this, as you have asked,” Valgard replied with the solemnity of his station as he motioned for her to rise. “Are you in command here, bishop?”
“I am now, Your Grace,” the hospitalier replied with a quiver in her voice. “The deacons fell in battle, and with the fighting over the other parishes yielded authority over to us.” She gestured to the other bishops, all wearing tattered vestments and bearing bandages. “Those who can still move have helped us order the fallen.”
The Archbishop nodded. “You have done well with a difficult situation,” he commended her. “What, exactly, did happen?”
“There were only wood goblins at first, Your Grace,” one of the other wounded bishops answered. “We went against them with the usual precautions – axes, torches. As our parish assembled, though, there was an attack below us.”
Valgard frowned. “You mean behind, bishop.”
“He spoke truthfully, Your Grace,” the hospitalier replied. “There was a second attack, earth goblins that burrowed underneath the first parish. The few that survived the first ambush sent out messengers; that’s what brought us along with the other two parishes.”
“The first ambush,” Valgard repeated as his frown deepened.
“Yes, Your Grace,” the hospitalier nodded. “The second ambush came two days later – goblins I’ve never seen before.” Her fear and confusion were evident on her face. “These goblins had made oaths with metal. They stole any blade that struck them, tore away any shield they touched, then turned our own tools against us. The losses would have been worse had the Cardinal not arrived with reinforcements. We still don’t know how he drove them off, but he and his forces chased after them.”
Valgard stroked his grey beard thoughtfully. “This is troubling news, hospitalier. A new breed of goblins is an annoyance, but the attacks…they suggest teamwork. Tell me – how much longer before the fallen have been ordered?”
“I’ve had survivors working through the night. When the Cardinal came, I thought you might not be far behind and I didn’t want to waste your time.” The hospitalier folded her hands, thumbs twitching nervously as she gazed at the floor.
“What is your name, bishop?” Valgard asked her as he placed a comforting hand on the young hospitalier’s shoulder.
“Janne, Your Grace,” she answered nervously. “Janne Haldottir, Bishop of the Third Parish of Hospitaliers of Fjall.”
“Janne, you have served well, and you have seen this new threat firsthand. Join me; your Church has need of you.” Valgard turned and moved to leave the tent. “Hurry; the ordered troops must be awakened.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Janne answered with a shudder as she followed the black-cloaked warrior back out into the sunlight.