OT: The Birds and the Bees and the Chaos That Crawls

on December 22, 2011 in How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Other Tales

The golem cart ambled its way over the uneven ground. It had six post-like legs in place of wheels. They were harder to make than traditional carriages, but far better for traversing the uneven and frequently marshy ground of goblin country.

They also allowed the bed to be lowered for easier entry by the diminutive swamp folk, and then raised for better ground clearance… all the while keeping the platform perfectly even. Honey had been surprised at how comfortable a way to travel it was, compared to the human-operated coaches and even the modestly appointed carriages her family used.

The physical accommodations could have been more pleasant. There was nothing but a light canopy to keep the sun off, nothing to keep out the wind or the bugs, and the seats were non-existent… Oru had explained that the vehicle was a “cargo crawler” that was also incidentally used to ferry people, but she’d also warned Honey of the implications of this and suggested she bring a cushion to sit on.

It wasn’t the only way to reach the goblin village, but the only one that didn’t involve barges.

The thing about goblins that made traveling with them surprisingly pleasant was that they didn’t sweat. They had a faint musty odor that could be unpleasant in its unfamiliarity, but it was the same after a vigorous bout of exercise or a long trip in the hot sun. Honey found the odor of well-groomed gnomes and even humans to be generally inoffensive under the best of circumstances, but things quickly deteriorated in less ideal circumstances and it didn’t even matter who your grandfather was. The best breeding could do nothing for body odor.

There were three goblin passengers and one human in the crawler with her, as well as the craft’s operator, who called himself the steward. He was a hobgoblin, grey skinned and around the height of a short human, though with a smaller torso and more length in his limbs and width across his shoulders and hips.

“There’s a sight you won’t want to miss,” the steward said as they came around the bend of a hill. He pointed to the top of another, larger hill where there was a series of scaffolding with rope or chains hanging out from a beam. “Means we’re going in the right direction. Not that there was any doubt, mind. Sometimes the routes change on us, but it’s been a dry year.”

Hanging had been outlawed in Logfallen for long before the Imperial Republic had forbidden executions by any client states, but part of the scaffold had been preserved through much of her childhood and “Hangman’s Hill” was still used as a landmark. The apparatuses on the hilltop here had to be similarly disused, but they looked… from a distance… to be well-maintained.

“Are they… do they still get used?”

“Every spring. I know what you’re thinking,” the steward said. “But that’s there’s just the brood hill.”

“Brood hill?” Honey repeated.

He nodded. There were some chuckles from the goblins sitting behind her.

“The water table’s so high here that we can only dig the pits up on the hill,” he said. “When a mother-to-be’s about to pop, she goes up and hoists herself into a sling and positions it over a well. It’s all very modern.”

“I’ll say,” one of the passengers said. He was an older goblin, though it was only possible to tell this because of his size. He was a good half a foot taller than the other non-hobgoblins on the craft. Goblins had the ability to keep growing throughout their life, though they used most of it up in their youth. “In my day, there weren’t any slings, and women were expected to dig their own pit and line it with stones themselves.”

“Obviously there were some problems with that system,” the steward said.

“I see,” Honey said.

“Some women still do it the old way,” he said. “One or two each year, most years. Well, I mean, they use the public pits, because they’re there. They believe it gives their children the best start on life. The noise is unbelievable. But you know, some of the biggest goblins climb out of those pits, so maybe there’s something to it?”

Honey found herself longing for the naivety of a minute before, when she’d thought she was looking at execution devices.

“That’s not to say that no criminal’s ever met his end on the hill,” he went on. “It was never exactly what you call a legal form of execution, but a good way of making sure someone leaves without a trace. It’s a lot easier to haul a body out of a bog than it is to find anything left in a spawn-hole after the little suckers have finished with it. I could take you to go see them sometime if you wanted… this late in the season they should all be empty.”

“No, thank you all the same,” Honey said. She smoothed her dress out so that it would better cover her feet. The canopy had no sides, and if she came home with tan feet her mother would tan parts of her that saw even less sun. “It must not be much farther to the village?”

“About twelve miles,” the hobgoblin said. “Wouldn’t do to have women giving birth any closer than that.”

“They travel twelve miles while they’re giving birth?”

“For us, birth is more of… well, an event than a process. There isn’t really a ‘during’, just a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Sometimes a mother will get a little too proud or too competitive and try to hold them in too long, but other than that it never has a chance to sneak up on a body. When they decide it’s time, they ride a crawler out here with food and water for a few days and a book, or a sharp knife if they’re in a hurry.”

“What happens if a goblin decides… not to have a child?” Honey asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Well, it would take an adamantine womb to have just one child,” he said. “But the brood can be ended, with permission.”

“From the husband?”

“From the fire chief and the militia,” he said. “Goblin pregnancies all end the same way, and you don’t want to try to take on the brood up close because they’ll fight back. The traditional method involves a torch and a lot of oil, or a fireball wand.”

“You mean they kill their babies with fire?”

“Well, in the first place we don’t call them ‘babies’ until they grow legs, generally,” he said. “And it’s a lot less one-sided a fight than it sounds like. If you ever saw a goblin brood, you’d understand… briefly.”

“I can’t believe the Imperium doesn’t have anything to say about this?”

“Oh, those meddlers have a lot to say about everything,” the steward said. “They sometimes send an ‘observer’ around in the spring, to make sure that no one’s getting shoved into a pit who doesn’t want to be there… though mainly I think they’re counting how many broods there are and how many babies climb out of the pits.”

“Back in my day, they made some attempts to ‘improve’ the process,” the old-timer said.

“That ended pretty badly, from what I’ve heard,” the steward said. “Though we’ve got the slings now, and the province sends a few crates of healing potions in the early spring. I think it’s all to make the whole thing more, what’s it called… palatable… to humans, but it’s for the best. Hardly anyone dies in childbirth anymore, and if they do it’s usually the mother.”

“Time was a woman wouldn’t be caught dead surviving her brood,” the elder goblin said. “It isn’t respectable.”

“Don’t mind him,” the steward said. “He’s just surly because he’s been married to the same woman for thirty-six years. Can’t stand her but wouldn’t dream of divorcing her, because no one before his time needed to. The new ways are better, though.”

“You don’t need to convince me,” Honey said.

In a bit more than an hour, the crawler reached the village. The buildings were made of a combination of peat blocks, mud, stone, and wood, but they were made in an imitation of the human above-ground style. The newer ones incorporated more modern materials, particularly in their front facades.

There wasn’t exactly a crowd to meet the crawler, but some people… children, mostly… had stopped what they were doing and come out to greet it. Honey found herself regarding the jagged iron-like teeth that the enormous smiles of the children didn’t really do much to conceal. She understood that very young goblins retained some of the instincts from their brood days, but she didn’t know what counted as “very young”, or how quickly goblins grew.

“Okay, Miss,” the steward said to her as the crawler settled itself down near the ground. “Donu’s house is right up the main lane. In case your friend’s not out to meet you, it’s a big white house and the only one with pink shutters. I have to see to my cargo, but I’ll have your bags sent along within the hour.”

“Thank you,” Honey said.

Oru was waiting outside the house with the pink shutters. The thing was built against the side of a hill, which Honey found to be a nice touch. It looked like someone had extended a burrow outwards with blocks of sod and then slapped the front of a human house on it.

Honey recognized her by the fact that she had three bundles-like pigtails jutting out of her head, where her sister only had two… other than that, they might have been twins. By the conventional definition of the term, they were. Their block-patterned sundresses weren’t identical, but were made in the same style.

The girls stood just behind their mother and on either side of her, remaining motionless and impassive until Honey stepped across the boundary of their yard, at which point Oru came running forward to embrace her.

“Honey!” she said. “I’d like to introduce to you my mother, Aru, and my sister Eru. You’ll have to wait until supper to meet my brother and father… they’re out fishing.”

“Hello, Oney,” Aru said. “So glad to meet you. How was your trip? I’m told you insisted on the long way.”

“It was quite pleasant,” Honey said. “And it might have been longer, but it was also drier.”

“Well, you’ll be happy to know we have just re-waterproofed our walls,” Aru said.

“I’m sure they’ll be just fine,” Honey said.

“Mother, may I go see Gako now?” Eru said.

“Of course,” her mother said, and Oru’s sister was off like an arrow.

“She’s, um, courting, apparently,” Oru said.

“She’s lobbying,” her mother said. “You have to understand, Oney, that goblin women are fiercely competitive. In my grandmother’s day, they could all count on having a turn with the one of the best men, but in more recent generations the thing has been to land a good marriage early on and make it last… I got my husband and I’ve held onto him, and my girls are both trying to follow my example. Eru moreso.”

“Oh, mother… I haven’t given up on marriage,” Oru said. “I just think a college degree or at least a useful trade skill will make me more valuable.”

“Just as long as there’s anyone left to value you by the time you’ve finished learning it… there is a perfectly good guild school just down the river, and you know I’ve checked and they say your credits would transfer. The practical ones, I mean.”

“Mother, goblins didn’t stop brooding the day you rolled down the hill,” Oru said. “There will always be more boys to marry.”

“This is how my daughter speaks to me,” Aru said to Honey, who thought she was saying it at least a little good-naturedly. She turned back to her daughter. “I didn’t roll anywhere, beloved eater of my flesh. I walked on my…”

“…own two legs and was opening the store the next day,” Oru finished, as her mother grabbed her hair-spikes and tweaked them. “Ow!”

“How about you, Oney?” Aru said. “I understand your family is well-connected… you probably don’t even have to worry about finding a husband.”

“Oh, that isn’t something I’ve given much thought to,” Honey said. “I’m a bit young for gentleman callers, to be honest…”

“Oh? I thought Oru told me you were of age.”

“I am, technically, an adult,” Honey said. “But my people don’t tend to get really serious about that sort of thing until their forties or even fifties, these days.”

“Ah, well, the Burrower claws ever closer, doesn’t it?” Aru said.

“She means times change,” Oru said. “Though it also means something about hurrying up and not taking too long with something.”

“I meant the former, I promise you,” Aru said. “Oru, why don’t you show our guest where she’ll be staying, and then you can show her around the village. Make sure you show her the store!”

“Yes, mother, I’ll make sure it doesn’t get lost among all the other interesting sights.”

“Oru-Donu’Kfughn, what did you say to me?”

“I said, ‘Yes, mother!'”

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Author’s Note:

I get a lot of questions about goblin reproduction… well, some of it is questions, and some of it is incoherent screaming. Either way, hopefully this answers some of it! To refresh yourself on the topic (and things like goblin naming conventions), check out the following stories:

Small Talk
More Small Talk
(Not Just) Small Talk
Professional Small Talk

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26 Responses to “OT: The Birds and the Bees and the Chaos That Crawls”

  1. Readaholic says:

    As the brood would say… om nom nom 🙂
    Nommy MU.

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  2. Anawen says:

    I’ve been wondering – I don’t suppose you intend to write an OT about the stag riders at some point?

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  3. Zathras IX says:

    Back when hanging
    Was still used in Logfallen
    Logs were not what fell

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  4. Xi says:

    The culture shock… it is DELICIOUS!!!

    This a wonderful look at goblin physiology and how its shaped their mentalities and culture.

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  5. Greenwood Goat says:

    G O B L I N S

    This time it’s BIRTH.

    I have to say that I found this episode fun – talk about being desensitised. Well, we were warned. Goblins are humanoids with an emphasis firmly on the oid. Like something out of Hellboy… or possibly the Toad’s offspring in Flushed Away.

    Spike: Whitey! Ooh! Aaagh! They’re biting my bottom! Help!

    So, to build on what we already know, it looks like unborn goblins have nothing like an umbilical connection, and just absorb what they need. Or perhaps it’s all magic. Apparently newborns are not affected by cold, either, or at least not the ones that survive. Aaaaand they don’t have all their limbs grown in. Perhaps they look like lighting worms.

    Nobody mentions the possibility of premature birth. It’s implied that it never happens, but it seems as likely that it’s just something nobody likes to dwell on. Not “her baby’s in an incubator, it’s touch and go,” but “it happened while they were asleep, got them and the neighbours too”. That is, of course, assuming that the incident did happen at home – an unplanned birth in a neighbouring territory might well be considered an act of war.

    I think I can now guess what a goblin might say about a dead baby joke – probably along the lines of “Why not? It’s the live ones you have to take seriously!”. Hmmm…

    Q: What do you call a live gobin newborn in a pit under a pile of dead ones?
    A: Favouritism.

    Perhaps one day the modern age will truly arrive in the goblin lands, with unbreakable glass brooding vessels and vacuum aspiration lances making home births possible and safe. Until then, I can see yet another fallback career for Mack: goblin midwife. Her half-demon skin would be invulnerable to bites (apart from the pain) and a little bit of surface flame should dissuade the goblings from even that. She’d also be able to cauterise exit wounds if necessary, and deal with any terminations in the traditional manner.

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    • So, to build on what we already know, it looks like unborn goblins have nothing like an umbilical connection, and just absorb what they need. Or perhaps it’s all magic.

      Such a tidy place, your imagination.

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      • Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

        Yeah, I was figuring that ‘beloved eater of my flesh’ was a rather quite literal term, and that goblins actually literally eat their mothers while growing to term, hence the danger of not cutting them out. The alternative is that they’ll eventually eat their way out, which their mother is unlikely to survive. So, no, nothing as neat and tidy as ‘absorption’, though it does bring up interesting questions about the internal anatomy of goblins, and how goblin mothers survive giving birth at all… Do they have non-vital internals that their body can regenerate?

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      • Greenwood Goat says:


        It’s quite obvious that an umbilical cord wouldn’t be able to survive in that environment, and neither would a placenta. So the embryonic goblings don’t need them. Which raises the question of how they do manage, for oxygen and the like. So one makes a scientific guess at surface absorption, but, given the nature of the WoMU, one also has to consider the possibility that it’s all down to magic. Goblins, like elves, might not need to breathe in order to live, but there’s no evidence either way, yet.

        Thinking about it, if a goblin’s placenta and umbilici were strong enough to resist the treatment they’d get from the unborn, the mother-to-be would have to have a very sharp knife with her in all cases, probably on a lanyard around her neck, so she could cut the little bundles of danger free. Alternatively, she would be able to dispense with the pit altogether and just tether her offspring by nailing the placenta to a post.

        Yes, of course, my imagination is a tidy place, especially since anyone who tripped over in there might not get back up again. So, keep to the clear paths and the lighted areas, people, don’t go out of sight of the exit, remember that any door that isn’t propped open is closed for a reason, don’t cross any of the barriers or cordons, and don’t touch anything, even if it asks you to. Head for the exit immediately if you feel dizzy, faint or horny, and if the siren sounds or the lights so much as flicker, run! Limits on duration and frequency of visit are enforced for your safety. We regret that the gift shop will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Enjoy your visit and please come again! – The Imaginagement.

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        • As approaches go, starting from “Well, they couldn’t have a placenta because…” makes as much sense as one that starts with figuring out what must happen to the egg shells after they’re born.

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          • Kevin Brown says:

            Having raised chickens I wonder what happens to egg shells quite often. However, I have to ask if that is an implication that goblins hatch? Because thus far the story seems to lean the other way.

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            • However, I have to ask if that is an implication that goblins hatch?

              No. I said egg shells would make as much sense as placentas… i.e., none.

              Goblins aren’t mammals. Placentas are a mammalian feature. Wondering what happened to their placentas or what they have “instead” of placentas is sort of like figuring out the gear needed for deep-sea divers and starting out going, “Okay, well, the parachute is going to get into the way, so let’s get rid of that.”

              It’s a reasonable statement, but why were we assuming a deep-sea diver would have a parachute in the first place? Because sky divers have them?

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            • Indikaze says:

              Placentas aren’t purely a mammalian feature. They’re a feature of some viviparous creatures, including certain reptiles and amphibians.

              Now, it does seem that goblin embryos might not NEED placentas because they can get nutrients through cannibalism, but that doesn’t have anything do do with whether or not they are mammals.

              On the other hand, though they may not get nutrients from the mother they do absorb alcohol somehow. I’d guess that it’s probably through the skin/embryonic fluid though.

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            • It’s not a question of whether or not they need one. It’s a question of why we’re starting with the idea of them having one and figuring out if we can throw it out. Goblins aren’t reptiles or amphibians, either. Their reproductive methods could be described as viviparous, but it’s more of an independently-arising parallel to “traditional” viviparous births than a variation branching off from it.

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            • Oni says:

              Basically they’re reproductive cycle kinda reminds me of this other comic, “Demon Eater”.

              I’m curious if the “embryos” are carnivorous from the get-go (killer sperm, eating cells and takin names), or if they are raised up to a certain point first.

              /Not curious enough to do first-hand research, though.

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          • Zergonapal says:

            Well it might be magic, but then again its not impossible to infer that each goblin embryo grows out of a literal egg and the point that they are ready to be birthed is when they exhaust the yolk and start eyeing off the neighbours. As for the shell it could be little more than a sack.

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    • Dani says:

      > Nobody mentions the possibility of premature birth.

      That would be the process-vs-event distinction. The Goblin equivalent of premature birth would appear to be a form of procrastination.

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  6. Xi says:

    Indeed, think more Shark Biology than mammal for incubating young’uns. Live young are born and kept in the darkness of the womb, the feeding method could be blood, or structures of flesh ect.

    Lovely alien biology.

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    • Brenda says:

      Not to mention there are some fish, I think it’s a kind of shark but I’m not sure, where the offspring are fighting and eating each other before they are born…

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  7. Abeo says:

    Interesting. It seems to me that this cultural shift would result in far few exceptionally accomplished males. Iirc, male goblins take on the accomplishments of their mates. In times past, they would have many mates, as they all died in childbirth. Now that having a single mate for long stretches is the norm… well, that changes the structure of their culture quite a bit I would think.

    Golbins are now the race I am most interested in seeing more of. Massive cultural shift ho! (Mind you, I’m not expecting gender equality as a thing that will even be strived for for a few generations.)

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  8. Hatamoto says:

    Cthulhu fhtagn.

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  9. ripvw says:

    I’m thinking the embryonic goblinlings eat each other, mostly, and only the strongest survive to be born. They eat bits of their mother, too, but not too much – they can’t have her dying too early. They need to be strong enough to survive outside the womb before they can completely devour their maternal parent.

    “Two or three glasses a day are recommended for the first semester, to keep the little darlings from breaking loose too early. Any more than that, and there are apt to be too many survivors to care for. I think there are five now, down from the nine or ten I started with.”

    But yes, clearly they can be born prematurely. It’s just that the mother knows about it well in advance.

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    • Zergonapal says:

      Or it could be the average goblin womb has properties akin to boiled leather armour.

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  10. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    In my grandmother’s day, they could all count on having a turn with the one of the best men,

    I think that “the” in front of “one” is extraneous.

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  11. Bilbo says:

    “Ahhhh, ahhhhgh, ahhhgggg!”

    Sorry, tripped on the edge of a breeding pit and almost fell in !

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  12. Videl says:

    I couldn’t help but hear the steward speak in almost a cockney accent when I read this. It definitely gave the biology lesson an interesting flair.

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  13. pedestrian says:

    as my wife would have said, this makes her uterus crawl

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