[Another very old one. I'm successfully getting rid of old, typed files, here. This is probably from the eighties. It was meant to be for the child or youth market. It needs editing badly.]
Karun crouched behind a boulder, hoping many things. Foremost, she hoped that her knees weren't bleeding. It was a petty thing to be wasting hope on, under the circumstances, but she hoped it anyway. She also hoped that the milling goblins at the bottom of the gorge had not seen her. There was no telling how long her spell of invisibility had been gone. If it hadn't been for that startled bird . . . Karun shuddered.
Usually she could feel it when a spell expired, but today fatigue and worry had clouded her perceptions. Her dive behind the boulder had been abrupt.
Karun listened, eyes closed. There was no change in the noises from the gully’s floor. Her many hopes clambered in her chest as if the foolish things were trying to get out. If Benim had been eaten by goblins, then Benim had been eaten by goblins. No hope could shift that, if it were done.
It was a pity that she couldn't make herself feel bad about the brat’s demise, but she couldn't. In fact, she found herself regretting that his parents were sitting safely in their manor, instead of sharing a cozy stew pot with their mouthy, misbehaving son.
It would darken soon. That would let her creep closer without sapping the energy she would need for other spells. ‘Til then her grey dress and heavy brown cloak would be camouflage. She hoped.
She also hoped, against all sense and almost against her will, that the boy was alive. Repulsively mannered or not, he was only five years old and his abduction could be said to be her fault. His parents, in fact, had said it loudly.
It had been a relief do declare, when there was finally a short pause, “I will save my accusations for later, when I have returned with my charge.” It would have been nice if she had been able to stalk from their hearing hall with them sputtering or silent behind her. But it was a relief to hear their voices fade behind her, at least.
But that had been three days ago. Goblins rarely kept meat fresh that long. Odds were that the young blot was bones already. But if he wasn't, every moment that passed without rescue endangered him. And if he was going to be rescued then Karun, linguist, scribe, and tutor – “much too young to be called a Sage or paid as one” – would have to do it. Now. Curse it.
Karun looked with dismay at the darkening gorge. Goblins were shuffling out of caves and holes by the dozens. They were wearing more clothes than usual and had painted their tails with phosphorescent paint in a kaleidoscope of colors. No. By the way the colors were grouped, the paint was meant to identify different bands.
Karun all but groaned aloud as she counted the different hues. There were more than twelve. There was no way that she could search that many goblin dens with her limited spell casting ability. She was a Sage, not a Mage. And a tutor, not a zookeeper! If I get out of this, I’m Karun the Sage and I’m gone.
If only there were some way to tell which group had the boy. Karun watched as the groups formed a rough circle in the center of the gorge and began to insult one another. Though informal at first, there soon came to be a ritualized quality to the proceedings. With a shock, Karun realized that she was witnessing a batma’gal, a ritualized contest of humiliation recently evolved by the goblins to replace their previously incessant inter-band warfare. No scholar had ever witnessed one. All documentation came from traveler’s accounts. Wishing she had her notes book and ink, the young Sage watched and listened closely.
A group would be insulted by the group on its right. It would react, then reply. Then it would turn and insult the group on the left. At the moment, a group dotted with bilious green blobbing glows growled and crouched, insulted by some comment that Karun hadn't caught. Then they rallied, stomped their feet and replied, in ragged unison: “Batwing-Ears! Batwing-Ears!”
A growl from their target and murmurs from the general crowd indicated a good return. Then they turned, stomped closer to the group on their left and yelled: “Flower Eaters! Flower Eaters! Eat flowers and smile!”
I shouldn't be watching this. I should be rescuing Benim. This is the perfect time to search the dens. But Karun knew that there would be guards at each entrance. Her spells would give out before . . .
“We Mirror! You Glue! Bounce Off We! Stick to You!” The new group’s initial reply made a big stir. This was apparently more than had been expected from a well-known opponent. Must be the height of intellectuality for a goblin. Sounds just like . . . no. It couldn't be.
The group, the sky blues, turned with smug confidence and let off another volley. “Snafflewart a Nut! Has Rubber Butt! Every time he turn – Goes Putt-Putt!” A roar of approval echoed down the canyon. This was obviously unexpectedly fine stuff.
Karun bit her fist to keep from laughing. Well, dip me in honey and throw me to the anteaters, the kid kept up his nerve. The spasm passed. The Sage began to creep down, circling the main event in search of a den with a sky blue daubed guard.
Not a bad show of spirit. There it is. One guard and everyone’s mind is on the Great Debate. Benim, I’ll make you a deal. You don’t mess up my rescue and I’ll stay and let your parents raise my salary and call me Sage. We both deserve it.