In which Jägerson and Ghost compare notes.
There was one thing that Jägerson knew without absolute certainty. He was tired. He was tired of being hungry, tired of being talked at and about in strange languages, tired from walking and riding all day, tired of all this magic and beauty and nonsense. He was fed-up, annoyed, frustrated, weary, and even a little sleepy.
His dinner companion, much to his chagrin, appeared to be in remarkably high spirits. Filled with glee. Irksome in his present mood.
One thing he had noticed about her, though, is that she kept rubbing her forearm as if it bothered her. Here, perhaps, was a chance to direct her thoughts more negatively. The first pause she gave him (she spent the first while after they left the building chattering away about her favorite eateries) than he said
“Is your arm bothering you?”
“What?” his companion looked startled and stared at her hand as if she expected to see a viper in her palm. “Oh, no, no, just a little tickle in the bone.” He words were dismissive but her voice sounded more relieved than relaxed.
Jägerson was pleased to notice his companion was more subdued and decided to follow up with something non-elfin. “Which tavern has the best lamb?” Eating lambs seemed non-elfin to him.
To Jägerson’s surprise, his companion’s face lit up. “Oh, I do love lamb! There’s a butcher on Grove street that sells whole lamb legs lightly roasted, so delicious and juicy! It’s not an inn, but there is a park just down the street with benches. Will that work for you, … I realize I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Jägerson” said Jägerson. “And yes, a nice pink leg of lamb sounds delicious.”
“Jägerson?” echoed his companion. “Good to meet you. I’m called Ghost.”
“Ghost? Why are you called that?”
“It seemed a good name,” replied Ghost, suddenly wary. “So, Jägerson, what brings you to Autumn Glow?”
“Is that the name of this city?” Jägerson looked around at the beautiful autumn colors shimmering between the light of the full moon and the many paper-shaded lanterns lining the streets. “I guess I came at the right season, then.”
“Oh, it is always autumn here,” Ghost replied. “Queen Autumn Glow, ruler of the Lands of Perpetual Autumn, sees to that. The great elfs can do that kind of thing.”
Jägerson considered this statement. Perpetual autumn made even less sense than centaur digestion. “So it’s not really autumn, then, just trees with autumn-colored leaves.”
“Oh, no, it is really autumn. Ask any one of the trees; they all have the sap rushing down from leaf to root, they all have leaves falling off but never growing, they’re all expecting the first frost later tonight just as they have every night for tens of thousands of days. It really is the very height of autumn every single day.”
“But that’s nonsense,” objected Jägerson. “Either the season is falling or it is remaining the same. It can’t be doing both.”
“In the fey lands it can. Magic and all that.”
Jägerson considered this for a moment. “Does everything here have that much magic?”
Ghost laughed. “Not even close! Most of us operate the same as you, just the ordinary magics of digestion and breath and sight and life.”
Jägerson nodded. If you had centaurs wandering around you probably would think of digestion and breath as magic. “How about goblins?”
Ghost looked at Jägerson warily. “What goblin?”
“Are goblins magical like the great elves or not, like me?”
“‘Elfs’, not ‘elves’,” Ghost corrected. “They don’t like being called ‘elves’.”
“I… what? What is it with you and language? And how can you correct my pronunciation in a language that no one around here even knows?”
“I know it,” Ghost replied, “and I know you got it wrong. It’s ‘elfs’.”
Jägerson felt dangerously close to slipping back into the endless void of Ghost talking about language that he had so recently escaped. “Look, I’m not asking about elves—”
“I’m not asking about elfs, I’m asking about goblins. Are goblins magical?”
“Some of them are,” Ghost replied cautiously. “Why do you ask?”
“Because back home, in the regular world, I’m a goblin hunter.” Ghost looked surprised by this, so Jägerson expounded. “That’s what I do: find them, track them, kill them. Usually there are no problems; they are pesky vermin, but just vermin. But the one I’m hunting now seemed more than a little magical to me.”
“Hunting now? As in there’s a goblin in Autumn Glow?” Ghost sounded worried, but not frightened exactly.
“No,” Jägerson replied, “I lost the trail hours ago.”
“What did this goblin look like?” asked Ghost.
“Like any other goblin to me,” Jägerson replied. “You know: short, ugly, grey-skinned, snot-nosed.” Picturing it in his mind, he added “Had a white scar on its right cheekbone, recessed and slanted like this.”
Ghost shook her head and said “No, I don’t think I’ve seen one with a scar there.” Then, leaning in close to Jägerson’s ear she whispered “But I do know another magical goblin.”
The rest of the walk to the butcher and the dinner in the park was very interesting for both of them. Jägerson did the majority of the talking, sharing about different goblins he had hunted and the goblin-hunting lore his father, Fängerson, had taught him. But Ghost would share tidbits of her own when she was sure no one was listening in, talking about how she had located and bargained with the Unseely court, showing him her “shadow”, and talking in general terms about a few of the things “she’d heard” that the Unseely had their agents do for them.
After they had disposed of the lambs femurs they had picked clean the conversation turned more general. Ghost prattled away about the oddities of the elfin culture and the strange things she had seen in the various neighbourhoods they traversed; Jägerson chatted about the various towns and cities he had visited as he visited the nearest settlement to each goblin to see what bounties or gifts he could collect. By the time they returned to the Last Ditch they were feeling quite chummy.