I seem to be doing this a lot lately, and with almost nothing to show for the effort, but I went hunting for June in the forest.
I have a lot of things planned. I want to rebuild for the fifty-thousandth time. I want to put the three animals that stumbled back into town today (two goats and a cow) back to work, even if they are bruised. I want to contact Pagan and tell him what happened to us, and ask if he'd consider moving his manor here. I want to send a letter to Lord B.T. and ask what he meant by that warning he sent before Kierkegaard's invasion, as I only just found it. I want to find Barrel and convince him to live here again. I want to coordinate with Harold on beginning construction of a wall, at the very least, around Pubton. I also want to plan new ways to make money so we can hire soldiers. Trained, professional soldiers.
First, I need to get rid of Philip. I also need to find out why, in the last handful of days, I've fallen unconscious near a flash of light. The only person I can talk to about supernatural shit is June. June, who was nowhere to be found during the crisis, who I could only assume survived outside the barrier - a barrier she MUST have been responsible for, since it came from her fucking golden tree.
I didn't find June's hut when I entered the forest. I didn't even find June. I did, however, find her voice.
"Looking for someone?"
I whirled around, Libby's homemade scarf lodging a splinter in my neck. I swore and scanned the redwoods for signs of the old woman. "Yeah. You. C'mon out. We have to talk."
"You always want to talk." I couldn't pin her down. Her voice was coming from a dozen directions at once, as though there were more than one loony old witch. Perish the thought. "Talk, talk, talk. That's Dragomir. Whaddya want this time?"
"I need to get rid of a ghost."
"Ah-h-h." She stretched the syllable out to a high whine. "I'm surprised. I figured ya'd be out here askin' for answers 'bout what happened last week. Y'know, the whole magical barrier keepin' out the shadows deal. Aren'tcha curious 'bout that?"
"Not right now." I shrugged irritably. "Ghost. I need rid of him. How do I do it? You're magic strong, you know how this shit works."
"What makes you think that?"
I pointed at the patched hole in my armour.
"Ah-h-h." Another whine. "Yep, got me there. Truth be reckoned, I didn't have ta do much to bring ya back. Just a lil' fiddlin' with, er, this 'n that. Piece o' cake, really."
"The barrier, then. It came outta your tree. You did it. You kept them out for days. You must know how to get rid of one little ghost."
"You might think so… but you'd be wrong." She laughed, the unpleasant sound bouncing off trees and whispering through barren branches. "You'd be so wrong. That, ah, tree, whatever you wanna call it, wasn't there to protect ya. I didn't figure it'd be used like that. Quite a work of art, it was."
"Then who did?" I asked sternly, on the edge of shouting. "Who the hell put that up?"
June hesitated. "Somebody finally sounds like his post, he does. Think you can bully me into - "
"MY BROTHER IS DEAD!"
June went quiet as those four words echoed into the wintery darkness. I waited a moment for them to sink in.
"My brother is dead," I repeated, huffing out the words in a rage "and I don't… want… to play… your fucking… games… right now. How… do I get rid… of… the ghost?"
June's next words lacked her usual mocking, derisive tone. I wouldn't call them respectful, but they were, at least, modulated.
"Grayson can do it for you. He's the one who saved you, isn't he? Ask 'im. I'm sure he'll be happy to carry out some work for his papa."
I worried that she might say that. Nevertheless, after a moment's consideration, I nodded and turned to leave.
"Be careful with that boy. You know what 'e is, don'tcha?"
"… no. No more 'n I knew what my daughter was, other than my daughter."
"Heh. Darling Eve. In her way, she was straightforward - you knew what you were gettin' with her, I suspect, 'n when she did otherwise it was a pleasant surprise."
"What are you getting at?"
"Grayson is the opposite. Behind that smiles 'n sunshine is a slippery saint. He's like his former masters - only tells you what he thinks ya need t'know. Anything else might be a lie… 'n he'll never do somethin' for you without askin' you to pay off the debt. Ever."
"… you don't know that."
"'course I do. You're alive, aren'tcha? It's all about balance."
I don't know what she meant by that, and I think I'd rather not know.
Dragomir the Mayor