This story is based off of a story from the game Dwarf Fortress, provided by the lovely Dusty Dorfs posts here and here. Dwarf Fortress is a game steeped in lore and legends, as well as nuanced and complex histories. I have taken some liberties with added names and personalities, but I drew much of the information here directly from those posts.
From this we have a story of Cuquimo Mergedyell, the human general of a conflict against Goblinkind, and the kind of impact that has on a person later in their life…
The corpse-laden battlefield, heavy with the burden of war, stretched out below them like death’s own bloody harvest.
Cuquimo Lecbealá, she of the title “The Colourless Viper”, stood atop a short crest where the officers had made camp; from here, she could survey the battle’s results, and hear faint conversation from the soldiers under her command. There was the faint stench of blood and soiled bodies even upwind, and the guttering pitch of the torches did little to aid the smell.
The voices below occasionally rang out in boisterous laughter or raucous songs, accompanied by the rhythmic clanking of tankards and armor and the stomping of many a boot. A sort of chaotic symphony, attesting that their victory was one to be celebrated, lauded in song and dance for days to come.
Behind her, officers pored over maps and tallies, preparing the next leg of their march and attack in this seemingly endless conflict. Though the goblins claimed tens of victories against her people, she had personally led enough successful sorties and battles against them that their death tallies stood over two thousand dead goblins.
She mulled that number over like a fine wine, swishing it to the other cheek. She rarely felt anything for the scuttling vermin she’d spent more than twenty years fighting; on the odd occasion, however, she had killed alongside her countrymen, and found the experience to have been a haunting one. Cuquimo had no doubt that these creatures would, if given time or reason, swarm over her people’s land and slaughter those in their path with brutal force and giant beasts.
In what she had heard termed “The Assault of Squashing” by many a would-be poet, her forces had led a suicidal charge headlong against an army with nearly five hundred trolls and two hundred goblins. Many had told her and her ragtag group – who numbered no more than twenty-six total – that such an attack would bring only more loss, and that the goblins were no more than a nuisance here. But she knew better.
Those men and women, now her trusted officers and confidants, had fended off the vastly larger force, even managing to kill fifteen trolls and as many goblins before retreating. This was the start of the goblins’ propaganda, stating that they had remained victorious. No losses on her side, and a hit to the enemy’s morale, but yet it still seemed a victory to the goblins.
Cuquimo turned back to the officers, shaking off the memories – she had work to do here. But when she looked at the maps, they were wrong on almost every detail; surely her officers had made a mistake. When she looked up from the various drawings to confront them on this point, she saw only the faces of her enemy looking back: gnarled, dark-coloured demon’s faces on imp-like bodies; teeth like razors jutting from over-wide mouths; ears not unlike a bat’s, pierced and scarred from a lifetime of harshness.
She stumbled backward from the makeshift table, scrambling for her crossbow and leveling it at the doppelganger goblins. They merely sat there, perplexed, a look of almost-human confusion crossing their features. One opened its unnatural maw and began to speak, the regular hissing or screeching goblin-tongue replaced by her own.
It all happened in a blur of action: one minute, she was loosing a bolt at the goblin who had dared speak her name in such a familiar voice; the next, she was staring at her husband, Sesle Ágkuppo, who had hid himself behind the door-frame of their bedroom. His gaze was directed at the bolt that had embedded itself into the woodwork mere feet from his face, and his smile was a mixture of fear and relief.
“I suppose it’s a blessing you haven’t had to fire that in a few years.”
A cold sweat swept over Cuquimo, and she dropped the crossbow unceremoniously on the floor, sitting upright and hugging her knees to her chest. “I…yes, I suppose it is.” She managed through gritted teeth.
“Cuquimo, dear. It’s alright.” He said calmly, moving slowly into the bedroom and seating himself next to her on their modest bed. “It’s the dreams again, isn’t it?”
Cuquimo only nodded, eyes transfixed on the bolt that had missed its mark. She wasn’t sure if she was angry that she had nearly shot her husband, or that she had missed what she thought was her enemy.
“I’ll have Gulgud come by and help pry that bolt out, no bother.” Sesle scooted closer to her on the bed, resting his head on her knees. “Why don’t you tell me about the dream? It might help.”
Her view was blocked by Sesle’s face; so kind and human, despite having grown up around the very thing that gave her nightmares and shock. She still had trouble believing that anyone – human, dwarf, elf or beastman – could live among those creatures and not be swayed by their terrible nature. She could scarcely believe they lived normal lives and had jobs, let alone had compassion or joy in their hearts. Her hatred ran deeper than the deepest mines or oceans, and it had taken years for her to even acknowledge Sesle’s goblin heritage, let alone accept it as part of the man she had fallen in love with.
Maybe that’s what she was afraid of. After two decades of hating something, to love it felt more alien than breathing water or eating rocks. Sesle was more goblin in human form than the other way around, and the struggle to keep her disgust in check had become an internal one, fighting its way inside her memories and dreams to poison her.
At last, after Sesle began humming his favourite tune, “The Yawn and the Smith” – which she had made jokes of until he revealed it as his first and only song – Cuquimo acquiesced. “It was during the “Siege of Beasts” – the one that claimed poor Asi?” Her voice warbled at the memory of it, and she froze up for a few moments.
“Take your time, my dear. I brought some breakfast, as well.” Sesle smiled and continued humming, working his way through odd notes and occasional wrong ones as he prepared some food in the next room. “I’m still listening!” He shouted lightly.
“Then-” Cuquimo’s voice cracked, but she pushed stubbornly through it. “Then, as I turned back to consult my charts and maps with my officers, the maps were all wrong.” She plucked at the threads coming loose from the rope reed bedspread. “When I looked up…their faces were goblin faces.” The cold sweat had returned, and she gripped the sheets tightly, her teeth like iron in her mouth. “They acted like they didn’t know why I was so startled, so…Angry…”
Her left hand instinctively began to reach for the crossbow, but as Sesle’s face appeared in the doorway again and mimed a breathing motion, she mimicked him, letting out the air she hadn’t realized she was holding in. Cuquimo began to breathe deeply on the bed, her legs pulled up under her to make room for Sesle’s breakfast tray.
“So that explains the…” He made a ptang noise and thumped his leg to imitate the bolt hitting the wall, then faked a scream and fell over on the bed.
Cuquimo snickered and patted his chest, partly to agree with him and partly to steady her nerves.
He had been there for her in a time of need, after so many battles fought and piles of corpses left in her wake; though he was a King by all rights (though no-one knew what rights they were), and though his home was in a hamlet where the livestock outnumbered the inhabitants, he had a calm and commanding air, not unlike Cuquimo herself when she had led her soldiers in battle. She sensed someone she could relate to, and moreover, someone who might help her forgive herself after years of wanton slaughter.
Despite having grown up in goblin society, Sesle was very well-read, and even knew how to play some wind instruments, when his duties allowed. He still retained some odd behaviours, like eating with his hands or making strange noises in reply to questions about direction (this was a cultural thing, he assured her). However, the fact that he had grown up among them wasn’t the only thing that drew her to him. He had made her smile (with some effort), had taken care of her when her hatred for goblins and her new-found love’s heritage had clashed and left her bedridden for days, and weathered her constant storm of nightmares and stressful trauma flashbacks.
She, in turn, had become his advisor in all things tactics and planning, and was present at all meetings he had in their humble hamlet with diplomats across the land. Many humans knew of the woman who led the brutal campaign against the goblins, and whispers about her retirement had begun to spread. Cuquimo hoped the whispers would peter out, but she knew how gossip flowed, especially in small towns.
“Well. As you can see, I am no goblin, though inside I am mostly one.” Sesle’s smile faded a tad. “And I know that gives you pause for thought, even now. But I also know that your heart is trying to change, despite the things you have seen and done.”
Cuquimo squinted her eyes at Sesle, then moved to swing her legs off the bed, staring out the window at the warm summer colours. She was an elder of the community at this age, in her sixties and beginning to crawl into her seventies. Her skin felt colder, though she still retained much of her motion thanks to her battle-hewn body. Her face contorted at the thought of her husband living among the goblins, but she cut the reaction short, taking the reigns of her life in her hands again.
“Tell me again about your…master. The one you apprenticed under.” She hadn’t turned from the window, but her posture relaxed a little.
“Ha, you mean Tosnung?” Sesle laid on the bed still, propped up on one elbow as he looked at her. “Well, Tosnung was a crotchety old man by the time I met him, but he had a heart of steel and brimstone, always moving and quick to catch a mistake. I’m sure most of the others were used to it, but my first few weeks there were a hell unlike anything I’d seen before.”
“And yet you stayed under such a…” The word stuck in her throat, but she forced it out. “Man?”
“Why? Why suffer such indignity and roughness?”
“Because he was a good man, goblin or no.” Cuquimo could practically feel Sesle’s smile when he said that. “He taught me how to be firm and fair with people, and though he didn’t always speak highly of me, he still cared about my well-being. I’ve met plenty more among humans that acted with worse intent and ferocity than that goblin ever did.”
Cuquimo turned on him then, and leapt upon the bed, pinning him to it. “Was that a slight, husband dearest, light of my life?” Her voice was full of vitriol, but her aged eyes shone with a humour she had grown fond of springing on people.
Sesle’s features paled and he grinned nervously. “W-why, yes, Yes, I do believe it was. Now, dear, let’s think about this…don’t want to wake the neighbours…again…”
The small hamlet was a peaceful place before Cuquimo and Sesle had been married. Cuquimo would see to it that it stayed that way long after they both passed.