No, it’s not the start of a D&D joke, it’s the latest adventure of The Muttwhelp, Mogarth of Glean, the half-ork antihero who debuted in Ragnarok Publications’ companion kickstarter collection The Black List.
In The Hillbound Hearth, exclusive to my patreon, Colander Bucklebuster, a world-renowned halfling chef, opens his newly constructed home to any hungry traveler for his first dinner party, in accordance with his peoples’ pious traditions of Holy Propriety, set forth in the Green Book of Catholic Manners.
The usual august personages take their seats for the twelve course sacred banquet, an elf lord and his lady, the high sheriff and her husband….but when the houseboy answers an inordinately heavy knock on the door, he finds an unwelcome pair of would-be dinner guests waiting to be admitted….half-ork bandit Mogarth and his savage goblin companion Redshat.
But this isn’t just a comedy of clashing cultures. Something’s not not quite right at Hillbound Manor….
Here’s an excerpt –
“Fill the glasses, Chopfork,” Mr. Bucklebuster instructed as he regained his place at the head of the table. “My friends, some of you are perhaps only marginally aware of the traditions of our gods and goddesses of hearth and home, of the dutifulness with which every pious Halfling cleaves to the edicts of Holy Propriety as written down in our Green Book of Catholic Manners. Of our twenty one deities none is more revered on the night of First Dinner than St. Doremett, patron of hospitality. We are commanded to turn no one away who comes seeking shelter or food, despite our personal feelings. To do otherwise is to invite Ill Luck to claim the place we have denied the weary traveler. Tonight two travelers have come to my door, and I am obliged to invite them to sit with us. I hope you will understand.”
Chopfork refilled the wine glasses. They would need something to prepare themselves for their new dinner mates, he thought.
“Please welcome Mogarth of Glean and his traveling companion, Mr. Redshat.”
Chopfork winced as the two newcomers entered, and was at hand to catch Mayor Buttercurler’s spoon and fling a towel into Lady Eanatha’s spilled wine before it reached the centerpiece.
“Evening, all,” said Mogarth.
He had not doffed his hauberk or his cleaver, and he had one hand planted firmly on top of the goblin’s bald head, to keep it from jumping in place. It’s large eyes were wide and dilated in its inky face at the sight of the table, though whether it was the food upon it or the guests seated at it he coveted, Chopfork didn’t wish to know.
“Please, my friends, sit,” said Mr. Bucklebuster.
Every flap of dirty foot on tile, every sniff of the goblin’s prodigious nose, every creak and jangle of Mogarth’s armor could be heard in the deathly stillness as they took their seats. Mogarth sat opposite Mr. Bucklebuster at the end of the long table, and Redshat was seated next to Knork Mezzaluna, who laid aside his plate and grew pale as the goblin stood on the chair, hands on the table, smelling the tablecloth, his empty dish, and then Knork’s arm.
Best to get the soup out fast.
Chopfork ladled out the thick split pea and sausage course in the small two handled bowls and was sad to see that no one appeared to much appreciate it. Mr. Lapida stirred it but kept his eyes fixed to it. The Mayor, trembling, took out some sort of antacid packet, sprinkled it into his wine, and drank it down in a gulp. The two elves only looked coldly toward the end of the table, as though the mere presence of Mogarth and Redshat were a personal affront to them. The Sheriff was looking hard at Mr. Bucklebuster, and her husband Knork appeared to be concerned mainly with the goblin at his side, who had slurped down his own bowl before Mogarth had been served, and then, after prodding poor Knork a few times with his long finger, proceeded to take his and down it as well.
When the second bowl had been drained, Redshat looked around at all the others. Only Mr. Bucklebuster and Mogarth were partaking. He put one dirty black foot up on the tablecloth, about to boost himself up and walk across to claim a third bowl, but Mograrth caught him by the arm and shook his head.
“Pace yourself,” he advised. “You’re never gonna make it to dessert.”
The goblin seemed to see the logic in this and took his foot off the table. But he had left a dark, unsightly foot smear upon the tablecloth.
To Chopfork’s chagrin, Mr. Bucklebuster chuckled.
“He’s an eager eater. That’s commendable. You said you were from Glean, Mogarth?”
Mogarth nodded as he stuffed another spoonful of sausage into his maw.
“That’s in The Valley of The Golden Lap, isn’t it?”
Mogarth nodded again.
“Ah, you and Mr. Lapida are practically neighbors. He resides just over the Wentri Hills in Steelshore.”
Mr. Bucklebuster looked at Mr. Lapida, inviting him to partake in the conversation, but Lapida only hunched his shoulders and stirred his cooling soup.
Mr. Bucklebuster was unperturbed.
“Tell me, wherever did you meet your little friend, Mr. Redshat?” And then, as an afterthought, Mr. Bucklebuster frowned. “I’m sorry. Does he speak?”
“When spoken to,” said Mogarth.
Redshat was tearing up the dinner napkin loudly with his teeth.
“I met Redshat in the woods around Crossbow Hollow. He and his kin lived there.”
“I knew of a gang of goblin bandits that plagued Crossbow Hollow for a time,” said Sheriff Ivy. “The Bellygashers, they were called. What they did to travelers caught in their forest is not fit for dinner conversation.”
“Bellygashers,” Redshat croaked. “All gone. All dead. Pinkskins kill them.”
“Yeah,” said Mogarth thoughtfully. “The Hartslayers took them out. The leader…”
“Pickscab,” said Redshat.
“Yeah. I think Pickscab was his name,” Mogarth said with a grin. “They cut him open and tied his guts to the back of the prison wagon, made him walk half way to Crossbow Hollow, then dragged him when he died. What the little kids of the Hollow did to his body isn’t fit for table talk either.”
“Many were the cruelties each race inflicted on the other,” said Mr. Bucklebuster, over his folded hands. “And regrettable.”
“And yet they are as nothing compared to the depredations of the war,” said Lord Oliendell in a fury.
“I saw your sword had a name on the blade,” said Mogarth, finishing his soup. “What was it?”
“Ork Ender,” said Lord Oliendell with cold pride. “And it lived up to that name on the Field of Bantilloy. Does that meat cleaver you carry have a name, or were you just another butcher in Odius Khan’s horde?”
“I call it Old Age,” said Mogarth with a savage smile. “Your people like to claim immortality, but you’d be surprised to know how many died of Old Age.”
The Hillbound Hearth, now up at my patreon for $5.00 and above backers, along with eleven other exclusive or little seen short stories by yours truly –