Runestone Cowboy

When I first read the runes, I expected something like beware the ides of June, not GOBLINS! engraved on a piece of slate and an address only a few miles away, thirty-seven Mayberry Close, Upper Clambourne. If it had been scribbled on a bus shelter in biro, I would put it down as a joke, but this meant something.

I traced half way round the goblin rune with my finger and felt magic stirring in the stone. So, not just an address, but transport for anyone without the bus fare from Lower to Upper Clambourne.

An invitation to the hunt.

Goblin hunters are a nuisance at the best of times, and outlawed since the Diet of Bologna in ten-twenty-three. And don’t bother to look that up. You will not find any official historical record of the Holy Roman Empire reaching a truce with creatures who, at the time, were regarded as spawn of Satan. Honestly, they only signed the treaty because a whole generation of young goblins were about to emerge from their cocoons after a thousand years metamorphosis. Imagine that medieval leadership suddenly discovering that mature goblins are not five-foot tall easy-meat, but brutes the size of elephants, and absolutely easy going unless provoked into a killing rage fit to make a tiger look like a pussy cat.

According to Toby, nothing winds a goblin up into a murderous frenzy like a bit of religious persecution.

I rang Toby and said the magic words.

“Tobes. I found more goblin hunters.”


My cat says something similar – meaning that litter tray needs cleaning – which is one of those odd linguistic coincidences, because not even a young goblin like Toby uses a litter tray. So he says.

“I have the address,” I told him. “But I think it could be a trap.”

Toby laughed.

“Ricky, if those shapeek hunters knew that I’m a goblin, they would just break down my door. No need to set elaborate traps.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Even so… maybe they want to get you away from Selene… She can be scary. Or… maybe they aren’t sure if you’re a goblin.”

Because a young goblin can pass for a really ugly human, in poor light and from the right angle, and Toby happens to be a really ugly goblin, which makes him even more passable as human. But honestly, what goblin hunter is going to suspect an ugly bloke shacked up with an elf-human half-breed?

I still have a very disturbing memory of Toby’s cousin Eric moving in next door to him. It turns out that the average council housing officer doesn’t ask if the applicant is human, and the below-average one doesn’t ask about the pet donkey. Eric found out about Selene the half-elf living with Toby and well… I have never seen so much blood on the walls.

Goblins hate religious oppression, except for goblin fundamentalists like Eric putting unclean elves in their place. I don’t suppose Eric ever expected to lose a round of pin the elf on the donkey. He probably didn’t expect Selene to bite his ear off, either. It’s just as well that the donkey was really a snack rather than a pet, otherwise it would have been a terrible waste.

“It’s a new world, Ricky.” And one where young goblins who accidentally kill their donkey subsequently get harassed by animal rights activists instead of religious fundamentalists. “Give me the shapeek address and I’ll meet you there. Teach these onion-frying idiots to behave.”

“OK. Texting it. See you in half and hour.”

# # #

Toby beat me to thirty-seven Mayberry Close by a few minutes, but then he has his moped and I missed a bus by seconds. In the good old days, any well-to-do young goblin would have had his own donkey, transport and snack in one handy package, but Toby has embraced modern living. Apparently, in traditional goblin culture, where a lad parks his donkey is fraught with issues. Nobody eats a moped, although local idiots might steal it, if their street-cred has dropped that low.


“It’s a trap,” Toby told me. “Got to be. Look.”

Mayberry Close was a gentle crescent of detached houses with a significant gap where number thirty-seven should have been.

“What happened?”

Toby waved. “Sixties development. What can I say?”

“I meant, what happened to number thirty-seven?”

“Gas explosion. Ten years ago. Apparently accidental, but I would treat it as an architectural statement.” He shrugged, and not even his favourite leather jacket could quite hide his vestigial shoulder spines. “Anyway, that’s what the neighbour told me. Apparently they keep a watch out for suspicious characters here. Probably worried about further architectural statements. So not even shapeek goblin hunters are going to gather in the open here.”

I showed him the piece of slate. “So if I used this instead of the bus…”

“Ohh.” He held it with the tips of his claws, which look almost like finger nails in poor light. “Ohhhhhh!

“What, Toby?”

“It’s s trap.” He shrugged again. Those shoulder spines are going to be awesome in twelve hundred years when he’s full-grown. “If you used this…”

“Yes? What?”

“Eric made it.”

“Eric the idiot cousin? Seriously?”

Toby sighed like only a goblin can. I’m sure I heard at least one plink of cracking glass, but it’s hard to be sure amid a frantic chorus of wailing cats and barking dogs.

“Eric likes hunting goblin hunters. It’s allowed in the Diet of Bologna treaty. The new generation of adults are about to hatch, you see? It’s a new world. Goblins asserting their rights against humans who breach the treaty.”

“Wow. OK.” That sounds like trouble. “Whatever next?”

“Elf rights, Frank. Elf rights. Time for goblins to come full circle.”

My mind was on Eric’s poor donkey. “Is that a good idea?”

“It’s a right idea, Frank. Selene says it’s time to talk about the Elfin-kind in the room.”

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Revolution.

Image from Pixabay

22 thoughts on “Runestone Cowboy”

  1. Another fun little romp that introduces a way of thinking about goblins that never occurred to me before. I liked the blend between fantasy and contemporary, and interestingly enough, this is the third contribution this month with a title that immediately makes me think of a song (something in the water?). The bit about how a young goblin can pass for a really ugly human, and Toby was a really ugly goblin which made him even more passable as a human, was a sly way of informing us that goblins must figure humans could pass for really ugly goblins. And never fear, I love puns…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂
      I’m sure it’s a new thing for me to have a title connected to a song, but the moment I typed “runestone” it just flowed naturally. (I was only intending to make notes on a story idea until I realised that the goblin business matched the #BlogBattle prompt.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent Mark. A ripping yarn if ever I saw one. Love the treaty too. Not even giving way to the Spaghetti westerns which, in historical note, date back even further than Sergio Leone redirecting them with the Man in Black that surely inspired Walter O’Dim of the Dark Tower muse.

    Great concept on metamorphic juveniles too. Had me chuckling all the way through!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The short answer is that this was just a one-off and definitely not part of a bigger piece.

      The longer answer…

      I really did just start writing notes on the runestones as an idea – how they get you from place to place and how someone with the skills could re-route the runestone… and then I wrote “Goblins!”.

      I really, really didn’t mean to. It was just a moment of madness that set me off. I wrote the first draft in the space of half an hour just following on from the wacky idea of the goblin hunt.

      I can see this becoming a novella, or a collection of shorts because I too would like to see the goblin hunt, and the goblin-hunter hunt, and to know how the barely-explained elf-human half-breed girlfriend Selene came about, and just how much of a pain is cousin Eric, and how can I stop my partner from exclaiming “Shapeek!”.

      I also now have all sorts of silly thoughts about the adverse impact of the industrial revolution has had on the supernatural community, and how goblins, elves and the like cope with modern society.

      My life is like this. I wrote my first book from a similar moment of crazy. I passed a Nail Salon called Monica’s, wondered what the business would be if it was called Demonica’s, noted down something to remind me for later and kept on writing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If there was a medical condition for the irrational urge to produce puns, I’m sure I’ve got it. 🙂

      I liked “Said Hanrahan” – it hits my current concern of “when will the grass start to grow?”
      Before the semi-retirement and downsizing thing, one of the woes of Spring was whether the lawnmower would start and how long could I put off the first cut. Now, with sheep to feed, and probably about six weeks worth of hay in the barn, I worry about how soon the grass will grow.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We bought the lawnmower about 25 years ago when we were a pair of working scientists living in a small house with a big garden. About fifteen years ago we made the move to an even smaller house and twenty acres of rough, moorland grazing, and sheep…
          We still have the lawnmower, but it doesn’t get used much now. 🙂


          1. I was too obscure. I meant why have a lawnmower when a tethered sheep will do the job for you? In Australia we have a famous brand of lawnmower called Victa and many a rural househod had a house sheep that was dubbed with that name for obvious reasons. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Where we lived when we bought the lawnmower had enough grass to keep a sheep for maybe a week out of each month at the most, and I’m not sure a tethered sheep is legal under UK animal welfare regs.

              You would not want to even try to tether one of our sheep. Just thinking about it, I am put in mind of that American sport of riding wild horses or bulls for as long as the rider can hold on. Our sheep only weigh in at 20-25kg, but put them on a tether and you have a psychotic yo-yo hell-bent on killing either you or themselves.

              Here, we still use the mower in the “orchard”, and we would never willingly allow the sheep in there because our particular breed of primitive sheep eat everything.

              They regard brambles as a routine snack, gorse is a delicacy, nettles as an autumn treat, and trees are there to be stripped of their leaves, any young growth and finally stripped of bark. We even have a few who go to great effort to snatch low-hanging foliage on the spruce which is supposed to be toxic for sheep.

              Our bottom field, when we moved in, was badly choked with both gorse and bramble. Something like four acres out of six was essentially unusable. We keep the rams and a few companion wethers down there, and they have reduced the gorse/bramble to about a third of what it was. (That did lead to a long conversation with my partner’s New Zealand aunt to try explain that gorse is native in the UK and not an invasive foreign weed to be ripped out immediately.:) In fact, recent gorse fires on the moor have raised concerns over the destruction of natural habitat.)

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Funnily enough, I was having a similar conversation with someone else this afternoon, but the other way around, lamenting a lack of fantasy tales (or at least of the right length, and family friendly, because my urban fantasy novels are absolutely *not* family friendly).

      My last few pieces for #BlogBattle have been loosely in the fantasy genre but the two pieces I have due out in Kraxon magazine this year are both really SciFi.

      I just went looking back at the last items on my blog. Ignoring the writing-related piece I did for the OMP Blog, the most recent four have all been fantasy. The three before that were all really about where my blog started, writing about incidents around the farm, the animals and life in general. The next one back was a silly, pseudo-poem about a catalogue of disasters, and then it goes back to fantasy.

      The main thing that strikes me is that very few of my blog posts are SciFi stories, but my most recent book was definitely SciFi and my current WIP is a monster of a time-travelling space-opera.

      I think overall, my preferred genre is “slightly nuts” with a tendency to “completely crazy”, and there is usually an odd-ball sense of humour attached. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You made goblins so fun, Mark! I found myself laughing quite a bit, and I loved this: ‘My cat says something similar – meaning that litter tray needs cleaning – which is one of those odd linguistic coincidences, because not even a young goblin like Toby uses a litter tray. So he says.” Cracked me up. 🙂 I’m finally catching up on February!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be fair to the (real) cat, he actually says nothing about his litter tray but simply sits and stares at it until the service staff do something, or desperation drives him to make alternative arrangements.
      The service staff try to attend to unacceptable litter trays, ever wary about how those alternative arrangements might be somewhere difficult to clean.
      (Saturday was a bad day. I wasn’t quick enough and the selected alternative arrangement was fortunately the small black cat’s litter tray. I don’t think she has previously seen what we refer to as The Egyptian – massive groundworks culminating in a new pyramid.)

      I look forward to catching up on February, just as soon as I’ve done the last of January. 🙂
      I have a regular spot on another blog that I’ve yet to do my next piece for, Spring is happening, a dozen or so trees (in chunky 35l pots) need planting, 120+ saplings from last year need potting on, lambs are due sometime soon…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Mark, you continue to impress me with the amount of activity and challenge you take on with what appears to be a happy countenance. That had to be said first. 🙂 On the other, I imagine you’ve hit spot on what those thoughts are in that small ruler’s head. I think cats can be charming, cunning, and diabolical. Of course, their tendency toward what feels like vindictiveness to us and justice to them does leave one on edge, especially when it comes to surprises in the bed sheets, and piles in problematic places. At least this time you only had to protect the discovery from the knowledge of the small black cat!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That happy countenance… I have been known to vent frustration in extended collections of short, expressive words…

    As for cats, there was a plan that we would never let them outnumber us, again.

    That wobbled a bit when Ginge turned up, but it was still an even match, until Oatmeal (the sick cat) decided to move in. So, we were already doomed when Piper decided it was time to stop sleeping in the barn.


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