Ghost gets two tasks, fulfills one, and sees a flower market.
Ghost woke the next morning to the warm glow of a perfect autumn dawn. She pressed her face to the window to enjoy the sights of Autumn Glow. Her stomach was full, her fate seemed fair, and all was as right with her as it had ever been. Turning, she picked up her shadow and banished it (the tingle was getting more like an itch each day) then descended the steps to the common room below.
Goldilocks stood at the foot of the stairs, leaning against the wall and blocking her way.
“Ghost” said Goldilocks with a slight upward nod of the head.
Surmising that this was intended as a greeting, Ghost mimicked the motion and tone as she replied “Goldilocks.”
“Back upstairs with you,” said Goldilocks in a bored tone, “and don’t come down until you’re fully dressed. Clothes ain’t optional in town or in this house.”
“Oh,” said Ghost. She had not considered either disguise or insulation needed but apparently there was some social purpose to the cloth? With a shrug she ascended the steps, pulled on her smock and kirtle, and re-descended.
Goldilocks looked her up and down, then stepped aside saying “Ghost” again with a slight downward nod of her head.
Goldilocks stepped out of the quilted door behind the bar to a room filled with people. There were about twice as many people as chairs, all humans as far as she could tell, and all wore worried expressions and spoke together in hushed tones. Axe was talking to one group and sketching with charcoal on a board he held against his waist. She could hear the sound of Lazarus speaking to someone behind the curtain.
As Ghost stood taking in this scene she felt Goldilocks push past her. “Here’s a couple coins for breakfast,” she said, pressing them into Ghost’s palm. “Lazarus wants you to see if you can find Lady Timora Bellmerry and ask her to swing by the Ditch at her earliest convenience.”
“I… Find whom? Who are all these people?”
“Find Lady Timora Bellmerry. Tall middle-aged elf lady, likes to wear yellow. And these,” Goldilocks said with a gesture and a hint of disdain in her voice, “are clients Lazarus accepted even though they probably can’t pay. Now go find Lady Timora Bellmerry. Time passes.”
Ghost hesitated a moment more, then walked outside and began to make her way toward the market area that she had passed through the day before. She had not gone a hundred paces when a centaur cantered up behind her.
“Are you Ghost?” he asked, slowing as he reached her side.
“Yes,” said Ghost before she had time to wonder if answering was wise. “How do you know me?”
The centaur glanced around to verify that no one was too close then leaned down and said in a hushed tone “The goblin wants you to attend the Rose Red ball tonight and tell the man wearing a sprig of ivy on his breast ‘Bring it to the chandler at moonset tomorrow.’”
Ghost was taken aback. Nothing about the centaur suggested an Unseely connection. “Say what?”
“Say ‘Bring it to the chandler at moonset tomorrow.’ Those exact words, tonight, Rose red ball, man with ivy.” And with that the centaur broke into a canter again.
“Wait… how do you know…” began Ghost, but the centaur was already out of hearing and moving too fast to entertain overtaking him.
Ghost looked down to see that her blade was still hidden—it had been popping out whenever she was startled lately—and then continued on her way. Maybe Lazarus would know something about tending a red orb.
Ghost stopped and ate at the first likely breakfast vendor. During the meal she asked the cook if he knew of Lady Timora Bellmerry’s whereabouts. He said he didn’t but she might try the flower market, to which he gave directions. Ghost gave him the coins and he gave different coins back, then she made her way to the flower market.
The flower market was quite the shocking sight for Ghost. It appeared to be filled with the unborn offspring of thousands of plants severed from their mothers before they could even seed. Ghost shivered at the evident happiness of the fey in the market. Such a pointless display of cruelty was beyond anything she had ever imagined.
A nearby vendor noticed her state of shock and asked kindly, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Ghost turned to face the vendor, an innocent-faced young human girl selling pink and purple asters. “I… um… what is the purpose of this market?” Ghost asked.
“We sell flowers.” The girl looked a bit confused. “To decorate with? They are pretty,” she added when Ghost didn’t immediately reply.
“You have a pretty face,” replied Ghost, “but would you want to find a face market ‘to decorate with’?” It wasn’t a fair comparison; faces don’t grown back like flowers do. But it was what came to mind.
“Oh, are you a dryad?” asked the girl with a gasp. “I am so sorry! This must be awful to look at.”
The girl appeared genuine in her sympathy, so Ghost decided not to press the issue. “I’m looking for Lady Timora Bellmerry,” she said. “I don’t suppose you could point her out so I can minimize my time in this morbid place?”
The girl pointed to a tall elf in a long pale-yellow gown.
As Ghost pushed through the crowd she kept telling herself “It’s not like most seeds germinate anyway” and “the parents will recover quickly enough” and other soothing thoughts to keep from seeing everyone around her as a demon.
Once Ghost reached Lady Timora Bellmerry’s side she said “Lady Timora Bellmerry?”
“You have me at a disadvantage,” said Lady Timora. “Your name is?”
“Some call me ‘Ghost’,” Ghost replied. “Lazarus requests you visit the Last Ditch as soon as you may.”
Lady Timora stared into Ghost’s eyes and asked “Who calls you ‘Ghost’?”
Ghost felt unaccountably uncomfortable telling this regal elf that “Ghost” was a name she had selected herself. Instead she shrugged and said “Lazarus.”
Lady Timora nodded thoughtfully. “Tell Goldilocks I shall make my way there just before noon.” She began to turn away, then turned back and said with a smile “Oh, and Ghost, next time Goldilocks tells you Lazarus wants something you might want to check with Lazarus first.”
Ghost hurried out of the flower market and made her way back to the Last Ditch by a much more circuitous route than she had planned. Autumn Glow was a big place. When she finally arrived she heard Lady Timora’s voice in Lazarus’s den. Goldilocks was sitting at a bar stool and Axe was behind the bar chatting with her. There was no sign of the crowd from that morning. Both Axe and Goldilocks were eating something that smelled divine.
“Have an omelet?” asked Axe.
“Is that what you are eating?” asked Ghost.
“Yes. It’s made from goose eggs.”
“Yes, please, it smells delicious.”
Axe pulled a plate heaped with lumpy stuff the color of Lady Timora Bellmerry’s dress from under the counter and placed it in front of the stool to Goldilocks’ right. Ghost sat down and took a mouthful. A smile spread over her face. Maybe killing things that hadn’t been born yet to bring a little pleasure into life wasn’t that bad after all.