The expression on Dragomir’s face as they talked said it all. He clearly had not known that the three lords he’d pulled into this meeting, hoping they’d help him build an army, were a bunch of assholes. Or at least he’d not known that they were diplomatic assholes, which, in a way, was even worse than normal.
Jeffrey went first, and his only response was a curt laugh. “Me? Allies? Nope. You saw my castle, Dragomir. Best friend I had is sitting to my left right now.”
“Why, Jeffrey, I didna know ye cared so much,” Gok said, fluttering a hand daintily in front of his nose.
“Trust me, it doesn’t say much for you,” Jeffrey replied, sighing. I need to socialize more.
Gok took the lead next, though his offering was no better. “We goblins have nay a reason te harbour good relations with folk, Mr. Mayor. I only got close te this one because I thought his kingdom would be ripe for pluckin’ one day. I wasna wrong in that, neither. Had a few feelers out te other kingdoms, but they were less trustin’.”
“Smarter, you mean.” Dragomir set his puffy hat aside, clearly frustrated.
“Aye, that too.” Gok elbowed Jeffrey. Jeffrey elbowed him back. They tussled for a moment.
“Okay. Great.” Dragomir turned to the last of the lords. “Pagan? Know anybody worth knowing?”
Pagan nodded, but it was a grim gesture. “I’ve fought for many kings and feudal lords over the years. Unfortunately, I think most of them are either dead of old age or fled from the Non. The last I heard of was Duke Barksome, maybe ten days south of Pubton, and I believe his small kingdom was swallowed by the Non while you were on your sojourn. My contacts will be little help to you, Dragomir.”
Dragomir’s hopeful face crumbled, replaced by irritation. Jeffrey sympathized. Despite the good Dragomir had done over the last three years, he’d managed to gather few truly reliable allies. His wife was one; Jeffrey’s own son was another. The guys in charge of armies, though… not so much.
There’s gotta be someone, Jeffrey mused, thinking back on his years as a king. Someone I didn’t piss off that much. Someone who visited the castle that I didn’t… uh… insult. Or execute. Or have executed. Or chase away. But I’ll be damned if I know who it is. Uhhhh…
“If that’s all,” Gok said, hopping off of his chair, “I’ll be headin’ to my quarters. Let yer wife know she can join me, if she likes, Mr. Mayor.”
“You don’t have quarters on the Sky Bitch,” Dragomir barked. The rat on his shoulder bristled. “Sit your ass down. And shut up about my wife. One word and she’ll throw you off the deck.”
“Ooooo, aye, and how useful that’d be, eh?” Gok pretended to totter back and forth on a precipice, dancing on one foot. Jeffrey had to admit he was impressed, as the Sky Bitch was already rocking quite a bit. “Old dead Gok, sent te his doom. Splat he goes. ’n then how useful is he to yer campaign, eh? My goblins won’t follow a human. They’d sooner kneel te my corpse, flies and all.”
Jeffrey rolled his eyes. “You’re so helpful, Gok. Really. You act as though we’re not in a fight for our lives against the Non.”
“Better te fuck around when doom is comin’ down on ye than to give up ’n sulk,” Gok retorted. His grin was yellow and sour. “Or so I hear certain people have done in this very room. Eh? Are my reports accurate, ye great yellow-belly?”
Anger surged in Jeffrey’s skull. He wondered, not for the first time, how Gok had learned such things - and he knew all too well that the goblin could just be making a clever guess. Jeffrey would look bad either way, but he didn’t care. “Just a damned minute - “
Still standing on his tip-toes, Gok danced away from the table, following the tips and turns of the ship. “Ye always were such a pansy, Jeff-o. Ne’er could stand up on yer own two feet. Always lettin’ other people do all the hard work. Ye didna deserve anything ye had. S’pecially that fiiiiine tree-bound woman ye had. Now she was a ruler. Shame me goblins never managed to abduct her proper, I’d have given her branches such a climb - ”
Jeffrey was now on his feet, face red. “Abduct her?! Those were your goblins, you little son of a bitch? I’ll kill you - “
Gok stuck up his middle finger. “I’d love te see ye try - “
Pagan jumped between the two, shouting. “Hold on, for fuck’s sake! My gods, Dragomir, bring this to order - “
But Dragomir wasn’t adding anything to the conversation for the moment. Though he was focused almost entirely on Gok, wanting to throttle the goblin’s neck with his boxing-toned muscles, a small part of Jeffrey seemed to realize that Dragomir hadn’t spoken for a while. At first the tiny part of Jeffrey that was paying attention thought Dragomir was about to explode - but when he took a quick peek over at Dragomir, wondering when he would receive backup against Gok’s sexism, he saw only a thoughtful expression on the man’s face. It was enough to shut him up.
When Gok realized that Jeffrey was no longer taking the bait, he stopped taunting. Pagan, too, abandoned his position of mediator, and all three of them focused on Dragomir. Even the rat, head cocked, seemed perplexed by Dragomir’s silence.
“Tree,” Dragomir eventually said, scratching the side of his head. “Tree… climbing trees… goblins… and corpses…”
“What is it?” Pagan tapped his sword cane on the ground, as if trying to attract Dragomir’s attention. “Are you going to share with the rest of us?”
As if waking from a brief dream, Dragomir shook his head. He focused on each man in turn, ending with Jeffrey. He grinned a little… but the humour in it was rueful and dark.
“Trees, climbing trees, goblins, and corpses.” He sighed. “I know some people who like me well enough. Assuming you can call ‘em ‘people’. Fed me dinner and everything.”