“We’d been down there for ages—I think mama went crazy a few times. Papa died, the big goblin men did it I think, even though the Tristan boys said they did it. Dekan and Peter Tristan had been my younger brother, Nars’, mates. Sort of. All of them were of an age and in a town as small as Phandalin, you didn’t grow up ignorant of your peers, even if you didn’t spend much time with them, say it true.
“Dekan is… was, I suppose, the elder Tristan—father some kind of miner. Don’t know which, say I don’t and I don’t. Except, most everyone’s father is a miner and those what ain’t supply them. Papa was as well, though Mama had put on airs for years and more because her family taught her some herbs and medicine and potions as a young one no bigger than Nars back in Thundertree years and years ago.
“Thundertree was ‘dead’, Mama always said. I don’t know what that means except nobody my whole life in Phandalin ever went there and that was fine by me. I was trying to kiss the Tristan boys when they got an age on them and the Elkana boy… and all that seems longer ago, years. Even if Harvest dance was only a week back. Maybe this is what Thundertree feels like. Maybe this is what ‘dead’ meant. Maybe it just means old.
“Dekan and Peter were the first of the gang we all saw, true as true. Saw them with their red cloaks and Nars thought it the greatest adventure, and Papa scowled. He’d known them most their lives, same as me and all. The ‘Cloaks had sent them to collect some of Papa’s things. I don’t know what. He was hush as a quiet thing about that, but I could see the argument in the night air outside our stoop. It was a queer thing. Dekan was the same boy I remember muddy to the gills, catching frogs and teasing Nars. But, he wasn’t. He was not much younger than me, maybe sixteen or seventeen. He wore himself a weak beard and carried a man’s sword and walked like that red cloak was the great armor of the Hobgoblin King hisself.
“Dekan was mad. Papa was mad. I couldn’t hear them above like I was, except to hear them angry. Peter came around the side, quick as you like—and when he dropped the hood over Papa’s head, it was like watching someone else’s life happen. Like hearing a story time from Trobon over at the Inn some evenings… hearing a story about someone else’s life and it ain’t real, but it’s present.
“By the time I pulled my senses together and screamed, by the time I ran down the stairs, and by the time Mama and I ran out into the street—they were gone. Every of them. The only people in the night were a red cloaked man, older than Papa I think, just watching me… staring. Me and Mama. And something small and dark. I couldn’t see it. But it walked like a man, it wasn’t no animal.
“They came for us that night. The beatings started. The hoods. And when we woke, awake in those cells in the days after—how many I won’t know and couldn’t say… wait… what is today, sir?
“As long ago as that?
“… right, as you say, one of those days the rapes started. And Mama went away in that cell and I think however she was wounded in the heart when Papa was taken, she died then on the stone floor praying Nars wouldn’t wake over in them other cages. The rough man said she’d best let him and be quiet—or he’s see. And that’s when Mama stopped being. And I don’t know if she’ll be back. She’s sleeping, now, sir. I don’t know if she’ll ever really ‘wake’, though.
“It was a few of them. The next day they beat Nars—only a thirteen year old boy at that, and unarmed and starving and they put a stick in his hand and the large hairy goblin thing near broke his leg with that maul or mace thing of his. Everyone laughed. That old sage that told them all what to do even laughed, it was the only time I saw him ever, sir, it’s a true thing I say.
“Old. Bald. Tattoos. No, sir, on his head. I don’t know… like a bird or a kind of swoopy shape. I couldn’t know what I means, sir. But he was there. And then he wasn’t.
“The red cloaks came often. They told us Dekan and Peter did for Papa. They told us they did things to his body. That he should have given them what they wanted, as the others. That all this was Papa’s fault. Mama was incoherent, never lie. Gone. Nars crying. They came for me, and all the gods forgive me, I didn’t fight them. If there was a way out of it all, sir, it would only come to me for it—that’s what I thought. Mama fought and had been hurt bad, inside and out. I needed to be strong for my brother and her. I went away, and they couldn’t break me that way. "
“The townmaster is scared of them cloaks. And the shops. Barthen. The miners. Everyone. And nobody says nothing when they take and take. They paid for Cobb, sir. Everyone knows it. I don’t care if I might die now for saying, I’ve nothing left to lose. Maybe Nars and Mama and I would be better off with Papa, living in Thundertree or some such, spirits and ghosts that can’t be touched by evil men in scarlet clothes.
“Dekan was the last one, this morning. Peter watched and was to have at me next. That’s how my eye is poorly and hurts, he hit me hard when I begged him to let us go. For the kiss I stole when we were children. For the frogs with Nars. He scowled and hit me and I don’t remember much of what else he done when the fight was out of me except he was quick about it and I think ashamed. They was taunting me and Nars when you came in. Telling us they was gonna sell us for slaves and send us off to Pel Brolenon to be used and used.
“And you all killed them. So quick. And brave. It was a shock of miracles and lights and creatures. I nearly thought you’d been a great dark skitter of night bats for a moment, but it must have been my mind playing tricks. I thought you were a great demon of the deep sent to judge them their sins and follies and evils. But, you’ve been kind to us and this inn may yet save what little of Mama they left. I think Nars is sleeping in your own bed. I thank you that, too.
“I’m glad you killed them, sir. I mourn a little, maybe grieve some for them boys I knew. That it all turned this way. But I look at Mama, and what Nars and me lost so recently… and I’m glad you killed them all. I don’t know why I ain’t crying, though. For Mama or Papa. Or for me. Or even bad as I feel for the Tristan boys and what path led them to this… I don’t feel anything.
“Why can’t I feel anything, sir?
“Is this… all there is now?
“I feel as though the wind might blow me away—that there is only dust now. In me, about me. The gods didn’t save us. You and your strange people did.
“If it’s alright, I’d like to sleep now, sir—that’s all I know. About any of it. If I remember more, can I tell you tomorrow. I think I should nap with Mama a while.”