I was a goblin once.
It didn’t last.
Flies gathered in the late evening air, diving in to lay their eggs on the rusted metal or the garbage bags, and Finger and I tried catching them between our hands or in our mouths. They made a tasty treat, small and crunchy as they were. Sometimes, I could keep one alive in my mouth for minutes, if I puffed out my cheeks and let it buzz around my tongue. It was hard not to giggle, though, at the tickling. And last month, when one of my front teeth fell out, a fly had escaped when I grinned at Finger. This was probably the last game we’d have until April or May because it was too cold at night for flies to survive.
I was ahead, with six captures to Finger’s four, when someone said, “Sweet Mother Morrigan.” I gulped down my fly. I hadn’t heard or smelled anyone approaching! Finger’s black eyes widened and he scurried backwards into the shadows. Grunting, I faced our interloper. “Who are you?” I asked, not bothering to hide a snarl. He looked like a human man, but his face was shaped as sharply as a goblin’s and his eyes were the all the colors of the autumn trees in the park across the street. He had silver hair falling down his back like moonlight, and I suddenly feared he was of the Shining Court. But Brag said the Shining Ones wore beautiful clothing of spider silk and velvet furs, not ripped jeans and a patchwork jacket like this guy. So I held on to my snarl and tapped my booted foot on the ground while I waited for him to finish staring at me.
“I, filthy child,” he said finally, “am the Fool, and you need to come with me.”
“I request it of you, most kindly.” He swept me a bow, though when he dipped down, tendrils of his long silver hair lifted away from the dirty street to float like an octopus’s tentacles.
There was no way to deny a kind request without being rude, and Brag would have my lips for that. I bowed in return, and offered him my hand. With a slight smile, the Fool put his delicate fingers in mine. He pulled gently, away from the alley. As we walked, I saw the eyes of the Goblin Court peering out at us. I saw the hulking shadows of trolls squeezed between brick buildings, and hobs and beetle boys crawling over each other to get close enough to hear, but not to interfere. Talons clacked and fur and scales shuffled together. They whispered, and more than once I heard the name Amadan.
“I don’t remember you,” I accused.
“That is your fault, not mine.”
It took all my fear of Brag’s disapproval to keep me from tearing my hand out of his. “When were you here last?”
“When you were a babe. I read your cards, you know.”
“I did not.”
“If not for those cards, they’d likely have eaten you.”
The Fool laughed and let me go. I ran over the asphalt to the rickety tin trash can that was Brag’s throne tonight. My foster father crouch atop it, picking his teeth with a nail. He hunkered town to touch my cheek; his leathery skin comforted me and I turned back to the Fool, arms crossed.
“Brag, do you know what I discovered your daughter doing just now?” The Fool shuffled a large deck of cards between his long-fingered hands. The gilded edges were bent and faded.
I bared my teeth at him.
Brag shifted on the trash can lid. “Eating bugs? They’re good for her.”
“That is hardly the point.”
“What is the point?”
The Fool sighed and cut his deck. He flashed us the new bottom card. “Temperance,” he declared. The picture was a naked woman with one foot in a river and one on the land. She had hair like starlight. “The Bridge,” he said, cutting again. “Shall I continue?” The Fool stepped forward and offered me the cards in a fan. “Choose, kid.”
I glanced up at Brag, who nodded firmly enough his root-like hair gnarled against his shoulder.
So I picked. The card I drew out depicted a boy about my age holding a giant cup of water. He stared at his own reflection.
Brag hissed, and all behind me the beetle boys clacked their teeth together, and even the trolls sighed.
“What?” I gripped the card, but wanted to throw it back into the Fool’s solemn face.
“Give her to me. For one night of every moon. I will teach her other ways that yours.”
“I don’t want other ways.” Throwing his card onto the damp asphalt reached a hand up and found Brag’s boney knee. “Our ways are ancient and good.”
But Brag pried my fingers from his knee. “They are, Rose, but they are not the only ways. The Fool is right. Before you are too old you need to know human things. You must begin tonight, Amadan.”
“I don’t want to. I like being a goblin.”
“And a good goblin you are, my sweetling.”
“Think,” the Fool said as he retrieved his card and tucked the deck away in his ratty jacket. “Think how you can help the Court, how you can serve your king if you can move between the worlds. From Goblin Court to Human Court – if you are fluent in both illusion and iron, what is there you could not do?”
I thought. There were times we moved our throne because of drunken humans or too many cars. Times we hid from their numbers, from their laws, from their lights. If I could talk to them, if I could make them leave us alone – it would be wonderful! “Yes!” I grinned.
“Where will you begin?” Brag asked.
The Fool eyed me. “With complete immersion. Tomorrow I believe I’ll take her to the mall.”
note: I’m kind of following up on a story from long ago: This Way to Corbenic. And ya know, I love writing about my Fool.
Image by Ben Harris-Roxas