There were places where bargains could be made, where one could learn how to free a soul, release it from bondage, but such knowledge always came with a cost, with a price to be paid. Ancient poets had documented requirements, thousands of them, all contradicting each other. It must be a child, no, an adult. Some said boy and others, girl. The hair must be fair or red or dark. Many said the eyes must be blue but sometimes green was the favored color. Mildness was required or cleverness or sometimes merely desire.
Drusilla knew that the goblins weren't nearly so particular. The conditions were rare but not impossible to meet. It must be a human child, a girl, with hair as brilliant as spun gold. That was the easy part. Beguiling the child to the goblin market, that was more difficult.
The children had run off as darkness, rising in the sky, had drowned the sinking sun. They'd left their curses behind, dancing like glittering fairies on the wind, fairies that only Drusilla and the girl child could see, the girl child with hair the color of spun gold. Drusilla didn't quite understand the words – cooties and piggy and much more besides – but she did see how their sharp little beaks tore into the girl's soul, tearing and sticking like barbed brambles.
“Do you like how they scorn you?” Drusilla didn't join the girl on the swings but sat instead on the whirlygig and pushed against the ground with her foot, setting it spinning around, circling her in toward the girl and out away again, in and out, round and round.
“No, of course not.” The girl wiped her nose with her arm.
“Why don't you do something about it?”
“Nothing to do,” the girl replied. “They don't like me, never have.”
“I know a place where everyone would like you.”
The girl's face shot up at that. The eyes were blue, not that it mattered. Hope warred with caution on her face. “I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.”
The whirlygig circled Drusilla away from the child. “Quite right, we haven't been properly introduced.” It drew her close again. Drusilla stopped it with one stomp of her foot against the ground. “But you don't need me to take you. It's all under your control. Just a short chant will take you there, where everyone will love you, forever and ever.”
The girl wrapped her hands around the chain of her swing and leaned forward. “What is it?”
“Repeat it after me. Up in the airy mountain.” She stared up at the girl and waited.
“Up in the airy mountain.”
“Very good. Now this bit. Down in the ferny glen.”
“Down in the ferny glen,” the girl repeated.
“We take a human child shopping.”
Drusilla had to nod to encourage the girl to repeat the line. “We take a human child shopping.”
“Excellent. One last line. And meet with wild little men.”
“And meet with wild little men.”
A whirlwind of leaves flew in from nowhere, the whole world rustling so loudly that for one bright moment it seemed as if there had never been anything but leaves, and then they were gone, leaving the market in their wake. The world had vanished except for the swing-set the girl sat on and the whirlygig that Drusilla had taken up as her throne. Tables stretched out as far as they eye could see, overflowing with fruits from every corner of the world. Human food was nothing next to blood, but even Drusilla found herself tempted by the tart shock of the lemons, the crisp sharpness of the apples, and the slow sleepiness of the pears.
“Oh please.” The girl ran for the closest table.
Drusilla stood and took a step forward but didn't reach out for the girl. “Mustn't touch,” she warned.
The girl didn't listen. They never did. She reached out to the dusky red skin of a pomegranate. The earth burst up around her into a mound of sickeningly grayish green limbs. Goblins poured out and had almost surrounded the girl when Drusilla's hand snapped out, grabbed the girl by the arm, and dragged the child to her side. The girl took one look at the wild faces – rat whiskers on some, tusks on others, tongues of serpents darting out here and there – and shrieked as she hid her head in Drusilla's skirts. “Hush child, they shan't harm anything of mine.”
One of the goblins, a short creature who barely came up to Drusilla's waist, stepped forward. His hat, a dusty blue tricorn with mouse skulls sewn onto the brim, clashed with his greasy grayish green skin. “Ah, but is she yours? She called us here after all, not you. She should bargain for herself.”
Drusilla pulled the child away from her skirts. The girl looked at the fruit longingly but shrank from the goblins. Still, she was less terrified than she had been. There wasn't much time. Drusilla had to bind the child now, before it was too late. She dropped down until she and the girl were eye-to-eye. “Child, you must tell them you are mine.”
“But I'm not yours.”
Drusilla stood to her proper height and looked down on the girl. “Then the monsters will drag you away and you'll never see your mummy or daddy again. Their dirty, crawly hands will grab at you and their sharp teeth will bite at you until there's nothing left.” The girl threw herself forward and wrapped her arms around Drusilla's legs. “You must tell them you're mine or I can do nothing to save you.”
“Hers. I'm hers,” the child cried out.
Words echoed through the goblin crowd like a branch breaking under a great weight. “Owned, owned, already owned.”
Their leader bowed, flourishing his tricorn cap. “What is your desire, great lady?”
Drusilla tugged at one golden curl, yanking at it. Its shine and Drusilla's words were all the contract needed between them. “I need to know. My dearest Daddy, trapped by a soul. How do I get him back?”
The goblin sat his hat back on his head and stepped forward, reaching a hand out toward the girl's hair. The rest crowded closer, their words little more than the babbling of a brook. Drusilla smacked the small green hand just before it caressed the golden curl. “Don't you dare. My answer first.”
The goblins fell back muttering but that was fine. There were rules. They weren't allowed to just steal, not if you were firm with them. A great silver bowl bubbled out of the ground. It was filled with water. Images formed: a dark haired girl, a stake, vampires vanishing into dust. Drusilla recognized the ancient streets of Jerusalem. The Slayer's face morphed into that of another girl, one almost as golden as the child by Drusilla's side. This one wasn't in the Holy Land. Her home was sunny or would be sunny. It was all quite vague. Drusilla watched as the golden Slayer, the one who wasn't yet, tricked her Daddy and stole his soul away. She laughed. “Poof. All gone.” But then the golden Slayer wasn't there and only the other showed in the bowl. “What does it mean?”
The goblin, the one with the hat, waved toward the bowl. “This Slayer must die before summer's end for the golden one to be called.”
“I must do as I've been told and nothing more?” Drusilla asked. She knew she had to be clear. Goblins were tricky creatures. They would hold onto the truth, hiding it away under lock and key, if they thought they could get away with cheating you. “I kill the current Slayer, the next is called, and she sends my Daddy's soul scurrying away?”
The goblins muttered amongst themselves as if deciding how they could cheat her. Drusilla picked up the child and held her high above them. “Yes,” they conceded. “That's all you are required to do.”
Drusilla pulled the girl's curl taut and cut through it with her fangs. She let the hairs drop down to the ground where the goblins scrambled to carefully gather up each and every one. Drusilla put the girl down and the goblins grabbed her up, dragging her away before her feet had even touched the ground. The girl's eyes were as wide as saucers as she tried to pull away. “No. Please!”
The goblins vanished into a mound of limbs, roiling away as a gray green turbulent river. The girl pushed herself to the surface only to be pulled under again. She emerged again, further away, and then again, even further, always in the center of the turgid limbs, struggling as if to keep from drowning in the goblins' embraces.
Even when she couldn't see the child, Drusilla could still hear her screams. They comforted her as she turned her steps toward Jerusalem. She'd paid a fair price. She would get her Daddy back again.