“I told ya I’m good,” Llaweyra said triumphantly. “So what’s the plan of attack?”
“We politely knock on the front door,” Avarron told her.
“And then we kick it in, right? When they don’t open.”
“Don’t worry, they will,” Avarron said and started to walk up the hill, hoping that his prediction was accurate. He didn’t know how it had happened, but they were all following him now, so he had to keep up the appearance that he knew what he was doing. He had no idea how the giantess would react, but if there was one person in this forest that knew how to vanquish a ghost, it’d be her.
He raised his hand to knock on the door, at which point it slowly opened by itself. There was no sign of anyone opening the door. Not even a goblin. Carefully, he stepped inside. Immediately, the door slammed shut behind him. In a reflex, he drew his sword, though there was nothing to point it at.
“Put that away,” the giantess said as she came around the corner of the kitchen, heavily leaning on her staff as she walked. “Although I did not expect you to return by yourself. Except that you didn’t came by yourself, of course,” she chuckled.
Avarron admittedly had not prepared himself for this moment. “I slew a certain ogre,” he said, having to start somewhere.
“And I am next on your list of monsters? Or is it simple revenge that’s driving you?”
“I am not here to fight,” Avarron said. He quickly sheathed his sword again. “I helped you. All I’d ask you is to return the favour.”
The giantess gave a short laugh. “You helped Connin, not me. Do not presume that I owe you anything.”
Suddenly, the door flew out of its hinges and into the house, landing loudly on the floor as a gust of wind whirled through the room. Both Avarron and the giantess looked at the doorpost, through which Llaweyra, Eleana and Finn entered. “Told you we’d kick in the door. Or blast it. Same thing really,” the fairy said excited.
“Well well, looks like you picked up a sorceress somewhere. Didn’t know we had any in the forest,” the giantess casually said to Avarron. If she was feeling threatened, she did not show it at all. “She’s rather unrefined though,” she added, looking at the broken door.
“Says the witch that slammed it in our faces,” Llawyera immediately replied.
“Rude interruptions and violent entrances aside, what brings you all to my home?” The giantess asked them. “Sir Theryndonash already told me his request, but what about the rest of you?”
“We share a common purpose,” Eleana replied.
“Knowledge, then? It is a valuable commodity, indeed. I wonder what you would be willing to trade,” the giantess said, her lips curling into a smile.
“You’re not taking my wings, you smelly witch,” Llaweyra yelled.
“A pity. They’d buy you quite the secrets,” the giantess said with a short, menacing laugh.
“Nobody’s going to lose any body parts here,” Avarron said, trying to pacify them. “We seek assistance, not conflict.”
“Of course. My question is: what do you offer in exchange?” the giantess asked.
“Let me do the negotiations,” Eleana whispered to Avarron.
He nodded in agreement and stepped back to make room for her.
“Why don’t you tell us what you can offer us, first?” Eleana asked the giantess.
“You came here, to me, seeking aid. Would you have if anyone else could have helped you? I doubt it. Therefore, my aid is invaluable to you. What can you offer that is invaluable to me?”
“You gained knowledge from the blood you took from Avarron, did you not? And he slew an ogre, which was a blight upon the forest you inhabit.”
“Neither of which is nearly as valuable as that which you seek to learn from me,” the giantess replied. “I am no fool. I know exactly what you want from me.”
“You are wise indeed,” Eleana said sweetly. “Surely you realise that it is in your own interest to assist us.”
“Yes, it is,” the giantess said meekly. Then she scowled and slammed her staff on the floor.
Suddenly Eleana fell to her knees, shaking like she had exerted herself to the very last. Avarron quickly knelt beside her to support her. “What’s wrong?” he asked, but Eleana was in no state to respond.
“She used dirty tricks,” the giantess said grim. “This backlash is the price she paid for trying in the first place.”
“You did this to her?” Avarron asked.
“Not nearly a severe enough punishment,” she replied. “Now begone, all of you, before I change the lot of you into toads and feed you to the goblins.”
“Get her out of here,” Avarron said to Finn. The hunter nodded and dragged the trembling Eleana out of the cottage.
“I said ‘all of you’,” the giantess threatened.
“No,” Avarron said. “I don’t know what she did to you or you to her. But I’m not leaving without an answer to my question.”
“Do not test my patience, little knight,” the giantess growled. “Or I’ll make you watch the girl suffer.”
“You’d have to go through me,” Avarron said and placed himself between the giantess and the door. “And last time I checked, your witchcraft was not particularly effective.”
“Whoooo, you tell her, you silly knight,” Llaweyra cheered.
The giantess gave him a menacing smile. “Goblins, take him downstairs,” she said calmly.
Avarron expected all thirty goblins to suddenly jump out of the hidden hatches in floor, ceiling and walls. However, only Connin showed himself, placing himself between Avarron and the giantess. “No,” he told her.
“Connin,” the giantess growled. “I am not in a patient mood right now.”
“Not telling you to wait, mistress,” Connin said. “I’m telling you ‘no’.”
“Now listen here, Connin,” the giantess said, clearly getting more aggravated by the moment.
“No,” Connin said again. “You listen. Commander’s our friend. You want him downstairs, find someone else to do it. But then we’ll find a new mistress. Or master.” the goblin looked up that giantess defiantly.
The giantess stared back with a cold, hard glare, but then shifted her gaze to Avarron. “Him?” she asked. “You are convinced of your own theory, then.”
“We all saw it,” Connin replied. “Wings and all.”
Avarron wanted to say something to that, but felt it better not to intervene in the discussion between Connin and the giantess. They seemed to have forgotten that he was there.
“Two hundred years you’ve tried, mistress,” Connin reminded the giantess.
She grinded her teeth in response, giving the goblin a painful look. “Alright, we’ll try it your way,” she said reluctantly.
“No bargaining, no cheating,” Connin lectured the giantess. “The deal is fair. Asking more is poor merchantship, so you told me.”
Avarron’s feeling of uneasiness with the goblin quickly returned. “What exactly is this deal you’re talking about?”
Immediately, the goblin and giantess turned to him, and Avarron started to wonder if it hadn’t been wiser to keep his mouth shut.
“Simple. Mistress tells you what you need to know, and you take care of our banshee-problem,” Connin informed him.
“That’s exactly what we came here for,” Avarron said and sighed. It was unbelievable how much bickering it took to come to what essentially was what everyone wanted. It was just like the nobles at Altraom; if they would all cooperate instead of compete, so much more could be achieved. “If you can tell us how, I’ll happily deal with the banshee. And then I can finally go home.”
“I told you we could have made a better deal,” the giantess complained.
“Hush,” Connin said. “The deal is fair.”
“Very well,” the giantess said reluctantly. “Tell me, knight, what do you know of Nariain Arteiss?”
Avarron told her what Eleana had told him about how she was a Fae that Theryn Donash had murdered and that she had become a banshee to curse him.
The giantess chuckled. “Not a bad guess, for one as clueless as you.”
“It is not correct, then?” Avarron said, somewhat disappointed that his newly gained knowledge did not impress the giantess at all.