Lazarus sends Ghost with Jägerson on a goblin hunt.
When Ghost and Jägerson returned to the Last Ditch they were quite chummy. It wasn’t the friendship of trust or affection: Ghost thought Jägerson cold and violent, while Jägerson couldn’t trust anything as magical as a nymph. But they both saw in the other a valuable resource with at least outwardly-compatible goals and neither had any reason to fear the other in the short term.
Upon their return only Lazarus was present. He asked Ghost if Jägerson had given her enough information to pay for his giving him a bed and, upon a positive response, showed Jägerson to one of the smaller bedrooms on the second floor. He and Ghost then sat by the fire and he absorbed all that Ghost had to share.
When Ghost came downstairs in the morning she found Lazarus and Jägerson eating at the bar, being served by Axe. Of Goldilocks there was no sign.
“Ghost,” said Lazarus in an unusually merry tone, “aren’t trees supposed to rise with the sun?”
“The sap waits for the sun to strike before it begins its flow,” replied Ghost. “Get me an east-facing window and I’ll see about a sunrise rising.”
Lazarus laughed. Ghost realized she had not heard Lazarus laugh before. He didn’t sound like he had much practice at it. Jägerson startled at the sound like a frightened deer.
“Axe,” Ghost said, standing next to him at the bar, “Is the boss ill?”
“I think not,” replied Axe, handing her a plate. “I think he’s just happy. But he doesn’t usually do happy. It might be a side effect of something he ate while I was out last evening.”
Lazarus laughed again at this exchange.
Jägerson moved his stool farther from Lazarous’s. “Is he some sort of demon?” he asked Ghost.
“I don’t know,” replied Ghost who had never considered the possibility before. “Not a dangerous kind, if he is one.” Then, speaking to Lazarus, she added “Lazarus, you are scaring the fauna with that howling. Please desist.”
Lazarus smirked at this, a much more natural expression of pleasure for him than the laughter. “I knew Bellmerry was wrong,” he muttered under his breath. “‘Be more cheerful’ she says. ‘Laugh,’ she says. ‘People like cheerful.’—Ha!” Then, speaking aloud, he said “Ghost, I’m sending you with Jägerson to track down his goblin. Goldilocks is out working some of her contacts to find if there is any news of a goblin with that particular scar. When she gets back you should track down some Unseely with Jägerson.”
“I can find Unseely,” said Ghost, “but how will that help? This goblin didn’t sound local.”
“If you were an Unseely and a powerful foreign goblin came traipsing over your land, you’d know about it, wouldn’t you?”
“No,” replied Ghost. “At least, I don’t know how I would unless he decided to visit me as he went.”
Lazarus looked annoyed at this. Axe looked amused and said “Unseely are pretty good at keeping tabs on each other, Ghost. Either this one is the locals’ superior, in which case we can be sure he stopped by to lord over them a bit; or he is a competitor, in which case they’ll give no little favor to be rid of him; or he’s a renegade with a price on his head; or he’s a contractor of some kind who checked in to keep things professional. Lazarus is right, they’ll know.”
Lazarus nodded his agreement with this summary, then added “You’ve dealt with Unseely before and ended up more in debt than you’d like.”
“I know the price I paid,” said Ghost. “Why remind me?”
“I just want to help prepare you so that doesn’t happen again,” said Lazarus. “If the goblin is in league with the Unseely you find, go in with swords swinging and offer no favor beyond ‘I’ll give you a fair chance to escape’—definitely not amnesty, let alone any kind of beneficial favor. If, on the other hand, they are not keen on this goblin they will be willing to owe you a favor but they’ll still try to offer a bigger favor than killing this goblin is worth in return for you owing them a little extra favor too.”
Ghost was finding this lecturing tedious and condescending, almost insulting. She tried to express as much in her face, but Lazarus didn’t seem to notice.
“I don’t care how appealing their offer is,” he continued, “DON’T TAKE IT! And if they appeal to your existing debt, refuse to accept that unless you are completely certain the person invoking that debt has the authority to invoke it. Tell them you’ll need to hear it from someone you know and then don’t give them time to make that happen. And remember, if they offer to change the deal, it will always be to your disadvantage.”
“I know, Lazarus” Ghost said. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Lazarus was clearly annoyed at this cavalier response. “This is no joking matter, Ghost. You are very likely to end up entangled much deeper than you want to be.”
Ghost imitated the scoffing snort she had seen Lazarus use a fortnight ago when invited to the Rose Red Ball. “I’m a dryad. I know how fey bargaining works.”
“Clearly you do not,” said Lazarus, pointing to her arm. “And even if you did, no one understands it enough not to benefit from additional warnings.”
An uncomfortable silence fell. After a bit, Jägerson asked Ghost “What was all that about?”
“You and I are going to find your goblin once Goldilocks gets back,” replied Ghost. Then, to Lazarus she added “When will Goldilocks get back?”
“When she’s done,” said Lazarus.
Axe was more helpful. “Hopefully she’ll find a suitable sword for Jägerson before dusk, but some of her contacts aren’t daytime kinds of people. A few hours before sunrise is the soonest she’ll probably have what information she’ll be able to find.”
Ghost nodded. “We’ll leave tomorrow,” she told Jägerson. “I’m going to go talk to some ivies today; maybe some mistletoe or a strangler fig if I can find one nearby. Want to tag along?”
“Beats sitting here,” replied Jägerson.
“Agreed,” said Ghost. “Let’s go.”