Ividay, Septar 3, 926 (about four years ago).
A pair of hobgoblin soldiers roughly shoved Svalina Bire into a dark room with a glowing ceiling, and removed the black bag from her head. Hisses of disgust and contempt filled the room, nearly masking a few gasps of fear. At the other end of the room, a goblin in glowing face-paint stood, and the room fell silent. A spear's butt to the back of her knee forced Svalina to kneel, and armored hands on her shoulders kept her down. The goblin with the face-paint spoke first.
"Elf-witch! Do you know who I am?" All the faces in the room turned to Svalina.
"I don't know your name, but I'm guessing you're the queen I've heard so much about today." This was a lie; her captors had told her countless times today that she would "face the wrath of Negost Dreadtongue, Goblin Witch-Queen of the Forest," and so on. But Svalina knew that goblins loved knowing their names were on the lips of others, and to tell Negost that she'd been referred to by title would direct some of the goblin's anger away from her and toward her captors. The threats against her were vague, but she was certain there would be retaliation for what she had done. She should have killed the goblins and been done with it, she kept telling herself. Any attempt to teach a goblin empathy was a lost cause.
"I am Negost Dreadtongue, Goblin Witch-Queen…" Great. This was going to take a minute if she was going through all of her titles. Svalina noticed that her captors left out a couple. Svalina waited patiently for Negost to finish.
"…and Supreme Ruler of all goblins within a thousand miles. Do you know why you're here, Elf-witch?" Well, Svalina thought, time to put my brilliant brain to good use.
"Greetings, Negost Dreadtongue," she replied, making sure to keep all of the titles in the right order. "Goblin Witch-Queen of the Forest, Slayer of the Gilded Elk, Conqueror of the Cave of Leeches, Burner of a Hundred Dogs, Climber of High Mountains, Moon-kissed, Mistress of the Arcane Flame, Blessed of Nerith, Chief of the Broken Daggers, Subjugator of the Spider Faces, Bloody Boars, Dead Voles, Centaur Choppers, and Yellow Vipers, and Supreme Ruler of all goblins within a thousand miles. I'm Svalina Bire, representative of the Owdi Triumvirate of the Vastwood. And I suspect I'm here for the reckless audacity of defending my home and friends from your underlings' unprovoked attack?"
Negost's expression had slowly turned from contemptuous to impressed, showing only a hint of surprise when the Owdi Triumvirate had been mentioned. Clearly she knew whose servant she was dealing with. Her face returned to contempt at Svalina's sarcasm at the end, but Svalina wanted her to know that the charge was ridiculous.
"I'm sorry, perhaps your Goblin is a bit rusty. You said 'friends,' but I'm certain you meant to say 'pets.' I suppose our language requires a stronger tongue to pronounce."
"I know what I said. And just because you only see the creatures of the forest as food doesn't mean that's all they can be. But for all your intelligence, you'll never be more than primitive savages if you can't learn that. Now, is this a real trial or are you just out for elven blood? Because I'm pretty sure you're supposed to charge me with something if you bothered to drag me all the way here. I take your silence on the matter to mean you admit the attack was unprovoked."
"I admit to no such thing. You set fire to the clothes of a team of foragers, sending them home naked after they shot a few rabbits? A bit of an overreaction, don't you think? And what kind of friend is a rabbit, anyway? They don't talk, they're useless in a fight, and they're too small to do any work. For that matter, how are they even useful as pets? As anything other than a meal? But who am I to try to understand the mind of an elf? I may as well try to look for the deep blue of a lake inside a rain puddle. Do you deny the charges? Because I have a great many witnesses capable of speech, and it sounds like all you have is a handful of prey creatures and patrons that don't care enough to protect you." Negost's grin was terrifying. "And you've been rude to the real queen of the forest. Tsk tsk. Perhaps a stay in our dungeon will teach you a lesson about meddling with us."
"The Owdi will hear about this when I get out!"
"Then they can take it up with me and I can tell them what happened. I take your silence on the matter to mean you admit to attacking our hard-working food suppliers under flimsy pretenses? Take her to the deepest cell until she apologizes properly!"
Oh, shit, thought Negost, as her guards dragged the screaming elf back into the hall. Lost my temper again. It helped her reputation among her people, true, but sometimes led to some diplomatic mishaps. The Owdi were not a force to be trifled with. Better to be safe and kill her before she could tell them. Then again, if the elf-witch made it here, then either they weren't really all-seeing in the forest, or they knew and did nothing to stop the events that unfolded, so maybe they weren't going to be a problem anyway. Still, another witch in the woods could lead to a power struggle later down the line. It was not unheard of for a nongoblin of significant power, even one as revolting as an elf, to become a goblin monarch, for a time. Best to be rid of her, and claim she was beaten unconscious and carried out into the woods. There, all planned out. Now to find someone to do the sneaky work.
A few days later…
"Tugruk Bonearm, wasn't it? Explain to my why you've made this appointment on such short notice, and insisted, nay, demanded that my guards let you enter my private chamber?"
"Your majesty. my boss, Chief Snapjaw of the Spider Faces, is planning a coup against you. I thought you ought to know."
"Is that so? And how does he expect to accomplish this?"
Tugruk straightened his back. "He plans to have you poisoned at the Eclipse Festival Feast on Pasaday night, and run you through with his blade while you're in a weakened state. He has promised one of your guards a discreet promotion a month or so after she slips giant squid ink and demonscale into your food. While you're stiff as a plank and your magic is dulled, he knows you wouldn't be able to stop him. Does that answer your question?"
"This is a very serious accusation, and you stand a lot to gain if he is removed from power. Do you have proof of any of this?"
"'Tis true, your majesty. I would become the new chief by another's hand, and in doing so would become one of the most powerful chiefs for a thousand miles in any direction. As for proof, I can give you the name of the guard he chose. But I came here at great risk, so if I may be so bold, I would have compensation."
Negost's eyebrows raised even as her eyes narrowed. "And what would you have for compensation? Be aware that any payment I promise you can only come to you after I confirm what you've told me."
"Money is always nice, but I have ambition, and a plan. I want my promotion, and I want it on my terms, and I want your cooperation in response for saving your life."
"You presume much. What is your plan, should my guard confess?"
"Offer her the same promotion sooner, or better, to poison Snapjaw instead. Feign paralysis, and if we time things properly, when he stands to attack you, he'll freeze up right after he draws his sword, I'll stab him in the back in front of everybody, and I become leader of the Spider Faces, and your Left Hand."
"I see. Ambitous, indeed. And why would I trust a Left Hand who would so willingly betray his chief? You'd be Left Hand whether he died or I did. Perhaps you think me easier to slay? Tell me truly, why should I trust your ambition to end so close to the top?"
"Your majesty, to speak frankly, I cannot defend the throne were I to take it, and I'd rather be the Left Hand of a powerful Queen than the Left Hand to a horse's ass."
"Ah, so it's personal, is it? Does he not treat you well?"
"I am paid well, but his stupidity is only outmatched by his brutishness and skill at arms. If he were king, he would rule poorly and our people would be gone from these lands in two generations. I cannot let this happen to my grandchildren."
After a long silence, the queen nodded.
"I see. Very well, I accept your terms. You will give me the name, but while I confront my guard, I need a little more proof that your loyalty is not based in cowardice. I have a matter that needs to be tended to discreetly. Once we have completed our tasks, we can work out the details of your future. Are you willing to risk death or curses to serve your queen?"
"Anything, your majesty."
Negost pursed her lips. "Good. Walk with me." she purred as they left her chamber together.